Spring gardeners have been warned about the potential deadly risk associated with using everyday potting mixes.
Victoria’s acting chief health officer has issued a warning to gardeners about the risk of contracting legionnaires’ disease from potting mix, following reports of increasing numbers of infections from Legionella longbeachae.
Legionella longbeachae is a bacteria commonly found in potting mix and is one cause of legionnaires’ disease.
So far this year, there have been seven cases of Legionella longbeachae infection, with 24 cases reported last year and 12 in 2016.
A higher number of cases are reported during spring, with a peak in November.
‘‘To many gardeners, potting mix may seem harmless, but it can actually be very dangerous unless the correct procedures are followed,’’ Dr Brett Sutton said.
Legionnaires’ disease can be fatal in a small number of people who have severe illness. In Victoria, infection with Legionella longbeachae bacteria is responsible for about 18 per cent of all legionella cases.
Dr Sutton said gardeners using potting mix should always follow the manufacturer’s safety instructions on the bag to minimise their risk of contracting legionnaires’ disease, including wearing mask and gloves, storing potting mix in a cool, dry place and washing hands after use.
Legionella longbeachae is found in tiny quantities in the general environment (including soil) and is not normally a health hazard. But the ingredients and dampness of potting mix make it the ideal breeding ground for the bacteria.
‘‘Most people who breathe in the bacteria do not become ill,’’ Dr Sutton said.
‘‘The risk of disease is increased with age, smoking, and in people with weakened immune systems.’’
He said different types of legionella bacteria all cause a rare form of atypical pneumonia. Early symptoms include fever, chills, headache, shortness of breath, sometimes dry cough, muscle aches and pain. People who suspect they may be ill should visit their doctor.
Further information about Legionella can be obtained from www.legionella.vic.gov.au or by contacting the Legionella Program on 1300 767 469.