Practising garden safety the key to avoiding legionnaires’ disease

Media release

18 November 2020

Springtime is an ideal time to get out in the garden…it’s also a time to protect yourself from legionella disease.

Legionella lives in moist, organic matter such as soil and can cause a range of symptoms, including severe pneumonia (Legionnaires’ Disease) and it can be deadly.

People can catch the disease by inhaling airborne droplets or particles containing the bacteria.

The Ministry’s deputy Director of Public Health Dr Harriette Carr says gardeners are at a high risk of catching the disease and need to take precautions this planting season.

“As the weather warms up and the days get longer, more and more people are turning their attention to gardening, filling their patch with compost, veggie mix, garden mix or top soil.

“It’s particularly timely for people getting in the garden to be mindful that people can catch legionnaires’ disease from inhaling soil or compost dust. Legionnaires’ disease isn’t passed from person to person.”

“Legionella is a notifiable disease in New Zealand. The most common symptoms include a cough, shortness of breath, fever, muscle aches and headaches,” says Dr Carr.

“There are a few things gardeners and others can do to minimise the risk of catching legionnaire’s disease. Simple precautions such as wearing a close-fitting facemask that covers your nose and mouth, wearing gloves and dampening down the material with water to lessen the aerosol risk can help.

Also, if you’re opening a bag of compost or soil, open it away from your face or upwind - that's especially important for Wellington gardeners.

“It’s the perfect time to get out in the garden – we all practice sun safety, now’s the time to practice soil safety.

Information on legionellosis is available on the Ministry of Health website.

Media contact

Blair Cunningham    
021 195 3978

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