Gardeners urged to wash hands immediately after using compost:

UK: Legionella outbreak in Scotland linked to growing media

NHS Lothian has said it is investigating four cases of Legionella longbeachae linked to gardening compost. Two patients are currently being treated in intensive care in hospital. Another two have been discharged after treatment. Symptoms of the infection can include headaches, diarrhoea or a dry cough followed by pneumonia.

The UK health board is trying to identify the source of the outbreak. All four patients are said to be keen gardeners and aged between 64 and 82. They had all recently bought different products containing gardening compost before they became infected.

Public health experts believe the outbreak is linked to commercial gardening compost.

The Growing Media Association (GMA) is aware of the recent outbreak of Legionella longbeachae in Scotland which is reportedly from contaminated bagged growing media. They are in contact with NHS Lothian and have offered our full support with the investigation into the source of the contamination, which has not yet been determined.

Until the most recent outbreak, there had been only 12 reported cases of Legionella potentially connected to the longbeachae microbe in Great Britain since 1990. Only three of those cases are thought to be related to gardening. In the same period, the UK public has used well over a billion bags of compost. Nevertheless, the growing media industry is committed to acting in a responsible manner and has conducted a global analysis of the situation to inform the appropriate policy on handling and labelling advice. This analysis was assessed by an independent microbiologist in April this year. The conclusion was that the extremely low incidence rate would make it disproportionate to apply warning labels to bagged growing media. Instead, labelling should promote good hygiene practice, including the importance of hand washing after all gardening activities, particularly before eating and drinking. This is standard practice for GMA manufacturers.

Source: BBC, HTA

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