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Urgent warning for anyone gardening in New South Wales



Gardeners are being urged by health authorities to wear masks and gloves when handling potting mix, mulch, and compost to avoid contracting Legionnaires' disease.

There have been 54 cases of Legionnaires' disease so far this year, according to NSW Health, while 132 cases were reported last year.

Legionella bacteria, which causes the disease, can multiply in bagged potting mix, mulch and other soil products, and can cause a lung infection if dust from contaminated products is inhaled.

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NSW Health Executive Director Dr Jeremy McAnulty has urged gardeners to read and follow the manufacturer's warnings on bagged potting mix.

"Before opening the bag, put on a mask and gloves so you don't breathe in the dust or get it on your hands. Wetting the potting mix, mulch or compost can reduce the dust blowing up into the air," he said.

"Even if you've been wearing gloves, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap before eating or drinking as the bacteria could still be there.

''Most people who breathe in the bacteria don't become ill, but the risk of infection increases if you're older, a smoker, or have a weakened immune system."

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Symptoms of the disease include fever, chills, a cough, shortness of breath, aching muscles, headache, tiredness, loss of appetite and diarrhoea.

The disease can develop up to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria.

Legionnaires' disease can usually be cured by treatment with antibiotics, but it can turn fatal.

The type of bacteria found in potting mix is a different strain of the same bacteria found in contaminated air conditioning cooling systems on large buildings.

The disease caused by both strains is known as Legionnaires' disease.

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