Doctors have been urged to be on alert for cases of Legionella lonbeachae after a small number of cases have been linked to compost.
Legionella longbeache causes patients to suffer from headaches, diarrhoea, dry coughs and pneumonia and most recover after a treatment of antibiotics. It is not usually found in the UK, but a small number of cases have been confirmed in Scotland in the past few years. The strain is well known to be linked to compost in Australia and New Zealand and compost bags usually come with warning labels.
Gardeners are being urged to make sure that they wash their hands after handling compost, especially before smoking or eating.
Experts confirm that the few cases have been restricted to Scotland, but concede that it may be that the medical services in Scotland have been better at spotting the disease. Specialists are looking into whether recent changes to compost formulae have been responsible for the new cases.
Health officials in Scotland are considering whether to recommend introducing warning labels for bags of compost.
Other experts point out that compost is usually heated to temperatures which are not ideal for Legionella bacteria and that the small number of cases mean that the risk is minimal.
A spokesperson for Health Protection Scotland said: “Gardening is a very healthy hobby but like anything in life, there’s a few risks. Over the past five years we’ve had three confirmed cases of Legionella longbeachae, plus two ‘probable’ and one ‘possible’ so we do need to take steps to reduce the risk even further.”