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Potting mix and Legionnaires’ disease

Home gardeners are encouraged to wear a face mask and gloves while handling potting mix and compost, and to wash their hands thoroughly, to avoid contracting Legionnaires’ disease.

There were 96 cases of Legionnaires’ disease so far this year from the type of bacteria that can be found in potting mix and soils in NSW, and 106 were reported last year. A woman in her 60s died from the disease in Sydney this week.

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease that include fever, chills, a cough, shortness of breath, aching muscles, headache, tiredness, loss of appetite and diarrhoea – can develop up to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria.

NSW Health Executive Director, Dr Jeremy McAnulty, said gardeners can take simple precautions to ensure they are safe when gardening.

“Put on a face mask and wear gardening gloves before you open the bag of potting mix and handle the contents,” Dr McAnulty said.

‘‘Most people who breathe in the bacteria don’t become ill, but the risk of infection increases if you’re older, a smoker, or have a weakened immune system.

“Wetting the potting mix first also helps prevent any contaminated potting mix dust blowing up into the air and being inhaled.

“Even if you’ve been wearing gloves, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap before eating or drinking as the bacteria could still be there.”

To minimise the risk, people should always read and follow the manufacturer’s warnings on the outside of the bag.

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