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Safe handling of potting mixes, garden soils and composts

Potting Mixes, composts and soils can be harmful to your health if you do not take some precautions. A group of organisms, called Legionella, is found in these materials and can cause serious illness. Legionella longdeachae is one species known to cause a type of pneumonia infection in humans. The information contained here will help you avoid the disease.

Material Safety Data Sheets

Symptoms of Legionella infection?

Legionella infection usually develops 2 to 10 days after exposure and some or all of the following symptoms may be experienced:
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • A cough which may be dry or may produce sputum
  • Aching muscles
  • Headaches
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
It is always difficult to distinguish Legionella infection from other types of pneumonia by symptoms alone and other medical tests are required to diagnose the disease.

How to avoid Legionella infection?

Due to widespread use of potting mixes, soils and other garden products, there is no guaranteed way of stopping infection. However, these simple precautions should be followed when handling such materials:
  • Always wear gloves
  • Keep the mix damp while in use
  • Avoid inhaling the mix
  • Wash your hands thoroughly after use.

How serious is Legionella infection?

Legionella is a serious disease and it is recognized worldwide that the potential death rate of people who contact the disease is between 13% and 15%. It is a relatively simple infection to cure providing it is recognized and treated quickly by your doctor. If treated quickly the effects of Legionella infection may be minor. However the effects are dependent upon your age, health and severity of the infection. Consequently the length of time taken to recover can vary greatly.

How is Legionella organism spread?

Recent studies in South Australia show that the most likely cause of transmission of Legionalla longbeache is from hand to mouth. It may also be possible that Legionella infection is contracted by breathing in fine particles of dust or water carrying the organism but this is not proven. Unlike other micro-organisms Legionella infection is not contagious.

Who can get Legionella infection?

People of any age may be affected. However, the disease is opportunistic. It often affects middle aged and older persons and those whose immune system is weak.

There is an increased risk of acquiring this disease if you smoke, have chronic lung disease, diabetes, HIV, or if you are on certain long term medication. Legionella longbeachae infection is not limited to gardeners but the use of potting mixes, composts and other soils puts them at greater risk. 
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