Recommended NZ | Guide to Money | Gimme: Competitions - Giveaways

Protect yourself from Legionnaires' disease when working with compost

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Labour Weekend is a popular time to get back in the garden, pull out the weeds you’ve been avoiding all winter, and plant veggies to enjoy over the warmer months. While gardening at this time of the year is enjoyed by many, it’s also important to keep yourself safe from a potentially serious illness. Compost and potting mix often contain the bacteria which cause legionellosis - also known as Legionnaires’ disease. Infection can occur when dust from compost and potting mixes is inhaled.

Legionnaires’ disease can vary in severity from a flu-like illness to severe pneumonia. Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches and pains, shortness of breath and coughing. Anyone who develops such symptoms within 2 - 10 days after handling compost or potting mix should see their doctor without delay. Legionnaires’ disease can be a serious illness that requires hospital treatment.

The disease is more common in older people, smokers, people with underlying lung disease and other long term conditions such as diabetes. Young, fit and healthy people are rarely affected. The disease doesn’t spread from person to person.

Medical Officer of Health, Dr Neil de Wet says, "Gardeners and farmers can take simple steps to reduce the risk of getting Legionnaires’ disease." He adds, "When working with compost and potting mix it’s important to take measures to avoid inhaling dust. For example, open potting mix and compost bags gently and away from your face, cut the bag open with scissors rather than ripping it, water gardens gently using low pressure, and, where possible, avoid working in unventilated places such as closed sheds and greenhouses. When potting plants, gently wet the soil or compost first to reduce dust, and wash your hands after handling soil or compost. Use of a face mask is recommended especially when these other measures are not practical or possible."

For more information go to

All articles and comments on have been submitted by our community of users. Please notify us if you believe an item on this site breaches our community guidelines.