Legionella infection alert


Eleven people have been reported as having Legionella infections within the region this year, says the Nelson Marlborough Health’s Public Health Service.

Legionella is a bacteria that develops into an infection and then into Legionnaires disease, a serious illness which can cause pneumonia and death.

Symptoms of the infection include, fever and chills, flu-like symptoms and cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, headaches and stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Of the 11 cases reported between January 1 and December 8 this year, three were from Nelson, two were from Tasman and six were from Marlborough.

Legionella infections are becoming more common, with eight of these cases between November 1 and December 8, in 2015 only four cases were identified.

Gardeners and spa pool owners are being warned to protect themselves against the serious illness as potting mix and inadequately treated spa pools are common sources of the respiratory illness Legionellosis.

“Legionnaires is not passed from person to person but people can catch it by inhaling contaminated droplets of water in the air,” says Dr Andrew Lindsay, Medical Officer of Health for Nelson Marlborough Health.

“The Legionella bacteria lives in warm water, so people who have spa pools need to properly treat their water and maintain their pools. Maintenance of hot water cylinders and cooling towers is also very important.”

Another common source of Legionella include is in the dust particles potentially inhaled when handling potting mix and compost.

“Six of the cases reported in 2016 appear to be linked to compost or potting mix. At this time of year, when people are getting into their gardens more they need to take care when handling these products,” says Dr Lindsay.


Steps to avoid Legionella infection when gardening:

  • wet soil, potting mix or compost before using it to minimise the amount of dust
  • wear gloves and a dust mask when handling soil, mulches, compost or potting mix
  • open bags of potting mix or compost slowly, in a well-ventilated area, and stand back as far as possible
  • open doors and windows while working in closed areas, eg glasshouses, potting sheds
  • use a gentle spray to water the garden and indoor plants
  • washing hands thoroughly after working with soil, potting mix or compost

People who own spa pools are reminded to maintain their pools and ensure they are properly treated to prevent the growth of Legionella bacteria.