Warning over deadly disease lurking in pot plants

·2-min read

Health authorities are urging people to be safe in their garden, as cases of Legionnaires' disease spiked by an alarming amount since last year.

On Friday, the Victorian Department of Health said cases of Legionnaires’ disease, a severe form of pneumonia, caused by Legionella longbeachae have increased by 60 per cent.

Legionella longbeachae is bacteria found in potting mix, soil or compost, the health department said.

A woman digs in the garden to plant a small seedling.
There has been a rise in Legionnaires' disease in Victoria. Source: Getty Images, file

"Gardening is a relaxing and enjoyable form of exercise, but it can pose health risks," Better Health Victoria said in a fact sheet.

"If you’re careful, you can enjoy the benefits of your garden in good health. Ignoring safety precautions and using the wrong tool for the job are common causes of gardening injuries."

Symptoms for Legionnaires' disease typically develop between two to 10 days after exposure and some initial symptoms include headaches, muscle aches and a high temperature.

Then, according to the Mayo Clinic, other symptoms may arise, such as a cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea and confusion or other mental changes.

How to prevent Legionnaires' disease

The Victorian Department of Health came up with a few things people can do to prevent people from getting sick.

People should always read the instructions provided by the manufacturer on the mix and follow them, and a mask and gloves should be worn while handling soil, compost or potting mix,

Afterwards, gloves should be rinsed and the mask should fit over both the nose and the mouth.

Opening bags of potting mix should always be done slowly, in a ventilated area and away from the face to avoid inhaling the mix.

To reduce the risk of airborne particles, the mix can be dampened with a light spray of water and watering gardens should be done with a low-pressure hose, the health department said.

When watering plants, breathing in droplets of water from dripping pot plants and hanging baskets should be avoided.

Potting mix should be stored securely, away from children and washing hands with soap and water after handling soil and before eating, drinking, smoking or placing hands near the face or mouth is a must.

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