Spike in Legionella in the Waikato

Waikato Hospital has seen an increase in cases of the disease.

Waikato Hospital has seen an increase in cases of the disease.

The Waikato has seen a huge spike in Legionella, the bacteria responsible for legionnaires' disease, which is potentially fatal.

This year, 18 people in the Waikato have been diagnosed with Legionella. Thirteen had to be hospitalised.

There were two cases the year before.

Medical officer of health for the Waikato District Health Board Dr Richard Wall said a nationwide study on Legionella led to increased testing for the disease, which will have contributed to this increase in cases.

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"Investigation of these cases has found that the majority are linked to gardening and the use of potting mix and compost," he said in a statement.

One strain of the bacteria which causes Legionellosis is a particular risk to home gardeners and farmers as it naturally occurs in soils, compost, and potting mix.

"This is the time of year when we head out into the garden and so we are at increased risk of Legionella from working with or handling these products," Wall said.

"Packaging for products such as compost and potting mix includes a health warning and advice, but when you are buying in bulk there is no packaging and so some people may be unaware of the risks and precautions that should be taken."

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The disease is a chest condition with symptoms similar to pneumonia. It can range in severity from a mild flu-like illness to a more severe respiratory condition. 

Common early symptoms include loss of appetite, muscle aches and pains, headache, abdominal pains and diarrhoea, with fever/chills, a dry cough and shortness of breath developing as the disease progresses. 

The disease is more common in middle-aged and older people, smokers, and people who have poor immunity or have a chronic illness.  Young, fit and healthy people are less commonly affected.

It isn't spread from person to person, but it can be a serious illness that requires hospital treatment.

Anyone who develops such symptoms within two to ten days after handling soil, soil-type products, mulches, potting mix or compost are advised to visit their doctor.

 - Stuff


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