Gardeners warned about Legionnaire's risk
- 3 September 2010
- From the section Health
Gardeners are being warned about the risk of Legionnaire's disease from compost, after a pensioner developed the disease after handling some.
The 67-year-old ended up in intensive care after being infected through a cut to his hand which he got while using a trowel, the Lancet reported
He has now fully recovered from the rare form of the disease.
But doctors said precautions could be taken and medics should be aware, so it can be quickly diagnosed.
The man, described as previously fit and healthy and a "keen gardener", was struck down by a serious fever in March.
Doctors saw him in the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, central Scotland, after eight days of trembling, confusion, lethargy and shortness of breath, but initially failed to diagnose the problem.
It was not until he had an invasive procedure where the lung is washed out to obtain a sample that Legionnaire's was identified.
He tested positive for Legionella longbeachae, a rare form which cannot be detected through normal tests.
Legionnaire's disease is normally caused by the bug Legionella pneumophila, which lives naturally in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, and can also be found in man-made structures containing water such as air conditioning systems.
Legionella longbeachae is a less common and is mostly found in soil and potting compost.
In the UK, just nine cases have been reported since 1984.
However, it is much more common in Australia, New Zealand and Japan, where it accounts for about 30% of all cases of Legionnaire's disease and has been linked to gardening.
Dr Simon Patten, who treated the patient at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, said: "I think doctors and gardeners need to be aware of this. The risk may be low, but precautions can be taken."
The Royal Horticultural Society acknowledged Legionnaire's was a risk, but called for a "common-sense approach".
It recommends wearing gloves, not opening composts bags with your head right over them and folding the top of the bags over when they are not in use.
It said gardeners may also want to consider wearing dust masks when turning composts heaps.