18 Jan Increase in Legionella Infections
Gardeners and spa pool owners are being warned to protect themselves against serious illness caused by Legionella bacteria.
Potting mix and inadequately treated spa pools are common sources of the respiratory illness Legionellosis.
Nelson Marlborough Health’s Public Health Service has received 11 notifications of Legionella infection this year, with 8 of these from 1 November. In 2015 only four cases were notified.
Dr Andrew Lindsay, Medical Officer of Health for Nelson Marlborough Health, says that Legionella infection can lead to Legionnaires disease – a serious illness that can cause pneumonia and death.
“Legionnaires is not passed from person to person but people can catch it by inhaling contaminated droplets of water in the air,” Dr Lindsay says.
“The Legionella bacteria lives in warm water, so people who have spa pools need to properly treat their water and maintain their pools. Maintenance of hot water cylinders and cooling towers is also very important.”
Another common source of Legionella is in the dust particles potentially inhaled when handling potting mix and compost.
“Six of the cases reported in 2016 appear to be linked to compost or potting mix. At this time of year, when people are getting into their gardens more they need to take care when handling these products,” Dr Lindsay says.
Dr Lindsay says that one the reasons for the increase in reported cases is the introduction of a successful, more sensitive laboratory test for the bacterium.
Steps to avoid Legionella infection when gardening:
- dampen soil, potting mix or compost before using it to minimise the amount of dust
- wear gloves and a dust mask when handling soil, mulches, compost or potting mix
- open bags of potting mix or compost slowly, in a well-ventilated area, and stand back as far as possible
- open doors and windows while working in closed areas, eg glasshouses, potting sheds
- use a gentle spray to water the garden and indoor plants
- wash hands thoroughly after working with soil, potting mix or compost