Nine legionnaires' cases in two weeks

NICOLE MATHEWSON
Last updated 16:07 28/11/2012

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One person has died and another eight have been hospitalised in Christchurch after being struck down with legionnaires' disease.

Nine cases have been reported in Christchurch and the Waimakariri district in the past two weeks.

Canterbury medical officer of health Alistair Humphrey said all but one case was 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", he said.

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

"It's expensive treatment for what is ... a preventable disease. [ICU is] a precious resource."

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

In total, 61 cases were recorded in Canterbury last year, with three deaths.

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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