Nine legionnaires' cases in Canterbury

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 16:12 28/11/2012

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One person has died and another eight have been hospitalised after being exposed to harmful bacteria. 

Nine cases of the potentially-fatal legionnaires' disease, a form of pneumonia, have been reported in Christchurch and the Waimakariri district within the last two weeks. 

Canterbury medical officer of health Alistair Humphrey said all but one case were definitely caused by people being exposed to harmful bacteria while using compost or potting mix.

The cases were not linked, ''other than it's springtime and they've been working in their gardens''. 

One person died of the disease on Sunday, while other patients could stay in Christchurch Hospital's intensive care unit (ICU) for up to three weeks. 

''It's expensive treatment for what is in fact a preventable disease. [ICU is] a precious resource and it's even more precious in Christchurch because we don't have a lot of ICU beds relative to the rest of New Zealand."

Symptoms of legionnaires' could include dry coughing, high fever, chills, diarrhoea, shortness of breath, chest pains, headaches, excessive sweating, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

A total of 61 cases were recorded in Canterbury last year, including three that were fatal.

Humphrey said people needed to be careful when handling potting mix and compost. 

''They do need to understand it's a serious disease. We do need to keep vigilante about this."

The Canterbury District Health Board advised people working with potting mix and compost to:

- open bags carefully using scissors, rather than ripping them.

- wear a disposable face mask and gloves.

- work in a well-ventilated area outside.

- dampen down potting mix or compost to stop the bacteria becoming airborne.

- wash hands thoroughly after doing any gardening.

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