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Easter Gardeners Reminded Of The Dangers Of Potting-Mix/Compost

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Easter Gardeners Reminded Of The Dangers Of Potting-Mix/Compost

Cantabrians are being reminded of the dangers of potting mix and compost when gardening this Easter weekend.

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Alistair Humphrey says Easter is a popular time to get the last of that autumn planting and weeding done before winter sets in. However, it can increase people's chances of being exposed to harmful bacteria legionella longbeachae, which can lead to Legionnaires' disease and Dr Humphrey says it's important to remember that prevention is always better than a cure. "Easter is often a time when the number of Legionnaires' cases can peak and this is usually associated around increased gardening activity and lower immunity levels with the change in season," Dr Humphrey says.

"It's important to follow the five simple steps when handing potting mix or compost to help reduce the risk of developing Legionnaires' disease."

Masks and information about how to avoid Legionnaires' disease will also this be available from some Christchurch garden centres during Easter, he says.

Symptoms of Legionnaires' disease may include dry coughing, high fever, chills, diarrhoea, shortness of breath, chest pains, headaches, excessive sweating, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Anyone with these symptoms, who has been handling potting mix or compost recently, should seek prompt advice from their general practice or medical centre.

There are five simple steps to avoid catching Legionnaires' disease from potting mix or compost:

1.Open potting mix bags carefully using scissors, rather than ripping them. 2.Wear a disposable face mask and gloves and open the bag away from your face. 3.Do your potting in a well ventilated area outside. 4.Dampen down the potting mix or compost with a sprinkle of water to stop the bacteria from becoming airborne. 5.Wash your hands thoroughly after handling potting mix and doing any gardening.

Extra facts about the Legionnaires' disease:

Canterbury recorded 62 cases of Legionnaires' disease in 2010 of which four people died and 20 required intensive care. Twenty two cases were in December alone - the highest number ever in a month. It was a considerable increase on previous years and two thirds of the cases were legionella longbeachae, the type associated with potting mix and compost. Risk factors for contracting Legionnaires' disease include being over 50 years of age and having a long-term illness - particularly lung disease, being a smoker or having low immunity. The ratio of male to female in 2010 has been 1:1. The age range of cases has been from 23 to 91 years, with more than 80% over 50 years of age. Most had other chronic conditions, or were smokers (both risk factors for contracting Legionnaires). More than 90% of the cases were of European ethnicity. Some of the increased number of reported cases appears to be a result of more sensitive testing that is able to detect milder cases of Legionnaires from the many cases of community acquired pneumonia that present every year. Detecting cases early means people are able to treated sooner and in the long run this should lead to a lower mortality from this disease.

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