Deadly warning after Aussie woman killed by potting mix

Health authorities have issued a strong warning after a Sydney woman in her sixties died last week after using potting mix.

With 96 cases of Legionnaires' disease so far this year, NSW Health have stressed the importance of wearing a face mask and gloves when handling potting mix to ensure the disease is not contracted.

According to Dr Harriet Whiley, Associate Professor in Environmental Health at Flinders University, Legionnaires disease is "not transmitted person to person," but rather through inhalation of the bacteria.

"This is why it is important to wear a mask, wet down soil and wear gloves and wash hands when handling potting mix," Dr Whiley said in a statement shared with Yahoo News Australia.

A photo of potting mix in pots as well as flowers and plants in pots.
An urgent warning has been given after a woman died from Legionnaires’ disease after using potting mix. Source: Getty

She also clarified that by using wet potting mix "there’s a lot less dust produced, so you’re less likely to breathe it in".

What are the symptoms of Legionnaires' disease?

Dr Whiley also described what it feels like to have the disease.

"Legionella is the bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s disease, which is a severe pneumonia like infection," she said, which involves a cough, fever and fatigue. "It can also cause Pontiac Fever, which is like a bad flu. You can also get an asymptomatic increase in Legionella antibodies. This means that many people are exposed to the bacteria, have an immune response, but don’t have any symptoms or get sick."

Dr Whiley also mentioned that in 50 percent of cases, people can also get gastro symptoms.

According to NSW Health, symptoms can develop "up to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria".

While anyone can become ill from inhaling the bacteria,"those at greatest risk of Legionnaire’s disease are the elderly, smokers and the immunocompromised".

"The fatality rate really depends on the individual and their underlying symptoms," Dr Whiley told Yahoo News Australia.

"Most people have probably been exposed to this bacteria at some stage in their life but they wouldn’t have gotten sick. It’s only when you’re exposed to a high concentration and you’ve got some underlying health issues that make you more vulnerable."

Potting mix not the only way Legionnaires can be passed on

Besides potting mix, Dr Whiley also mentioned the other ways people can contract the disease in the country.

"In Australia, the two species of Legionella that most commonly cause Legionnaire’s disease are Legionella pneumophila and Legionella longbeachae," Dr Whiley said.

"L. pneumophila is found in engineered water systems such as cooling towers, spa baths, swimming pools and showers, whereas L. longbeachae is found in potting mix and soil."

Those who have symptoms are encouraged to see their GP or go to the emergency department.

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