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Safer Gardening & Legionnaires Disease

This guide provides some simple and natural steps that all gardeners can take to reduce risk while continuing to enjoy their garden.

Gardening is a popular pastime enjoyed by thousands of New Zealanders, helping people relax and escape the stresses of life.  It provides enjoyment and exercise. 

The huge growth of interest in home grown vegatables and fruit in recent years has added to peoples culinary enjoyment, and helped stretch their budgets further.

Soil is rich with living organisms beneficial to plants which generally cause no harm to animals or people.  Soil does, however, also contain some organisms that are not beneficial.  A type of Legionella bacteria, which is commonly found in the environment, is one of these.  It has been shown to cause Legionnaires' disease in a few people.  This guide provides some simple and natural steps that all gardeners can take to reduce risk while continuing to enjoy their garden.

Reducing The Risk

As low as the incidence of Legionella contracted from gardening may by, it's a serious issue and there are a few simple easy and natural steps that all gardeners can take to reduce the risk while continuing to enjoy their garden.

The Ministry of Health has an excellent publication "Safer and Healthier Gardening".  It provides guidelines to help reduce the risks for the home gardener which include:

  • Minimise the amount of dust when working in the garden
  • Water your garden and indoor plants using a gently spray
  • Read the warning on bags of composted potting mixes
  • Wear gloves when handling soil, mulches, compost or potting mix
  • Wear a dust mask if handling potting mixes indoors or in windy conditions
  • Dampen potting mixes before use
  • Open bags of soil products or composted potting mixes slowly and away from the face
  • Make sure the working area (glasshouse, potting shed) is well ventilated
  • Wash hands thoroughly after gardening or handling soil products

See your doctor immediately if you develop flu like illness that is worsening.  Antibiotics are effective against legionellosis if given early.  As a reminder, potting mix and compost packaging should contain a warning panel alerting gardeners against the risks.

For more information:

Safer and Healthier Gardening - Ministry of Health August 2010 - read here: https://www.healthed.govt.nz/resource/safer-and-healthier-gardening