It’s a great way for you to relax, connect with nature, and get dirty. In that pleasant atmosphere, there are nasty bacteria and fungi which can cause serious harm. We need to be careful with gardening gloves and protective clothing.
Most of the bacteria and fungi in soil are helpful and break down organic material. Just as you have pathogenic bacteria living on your skin, certain microorganisms can do serious harm to the body if they are allowed into the body. It is most common to get infected through cuts, scrapes, or splinters.
Compost, animal manure and plants can also contain bacteria and fungi which cause infection.
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Tetanus is the most well-known and common infection. It’s caused by Clostridiumtetani, which lives in manure and soil. Infections are spread through soil-contaminated cuts and scrapes, like those caused by garden tools or rose thorns.
Most people are vaccinated for tetanus. This means that even if they get infected with the bacteria, their body can fight it off and prevent serious complications. The symptoms include muscle weakness, cramps, and stiffness. Toxins released can cause muscular paralysis, difficulty eating and swallowing, and even death.
Escherichia, Salmonella, and Campylobacter are common bacteria found in gardens due to the use of cow, horse, or chicken manure. Bacterial infection can cause sepsis. The bacteria infect the bloodstream and grow rapidly, causing an inflammatory reaction that leads to organ failure and septic shock. If not treated promptly, it may even lead to death.
A high-profile case occurred recently, in which a 43-year-old solicitor and mother of 2 died five days later after scratching her hands while gardening. It’s a case that is close to my heart because a few years ago, my mother spent ten days in intensive care after suffering severe sepsis. The cause was believed to be a garden splinter.
Standing pools of standing water can contain Legionella pneumophila. This bacteria is the cause of Legionnaires disease and is more commonly associated with outbreaks caused by contaminated air conditioning units in buildings.
Read more: Are common garden chemicals a health risk?
Related bacteria, Legionella longbeachae, are found in soil and compost. In 2016, there were 29 confirmed cases of Legionellosis in New Zealand, including a Wellington man who picked up the bug from handling potting mix.
Wearing a dust mask and gloves is recommended when handling potting mix. From www.shutterstock.com
In 2017, Wellington reported a further ten cases, again linked to potting soil. Legionella Longbeachae in potting soil accounts for about half the reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease. In Australia, there were approximately 400 cases total of Legionellosis.
It is recommended to wear a dust mask while handling potting soil and to dampen the soil in order not to create dust.
Melioidosis is a serious infection that affects residents in northern Australia. These bacteria ( Burkholderia pseudomallei ) are found in soil, but they end up in puddles and on the surface after rain. They can enter the body via cuts, abrasions, inhalation, or by drinking groundwater.
The symptoms of infection include cough, difficulty breathing, sporadic or constant fever, confusion, headache, and weight loss. These symptoms can develop up to 21 days before they manifest.
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In 2012, there were over 50 cases in the Northern Territory, leading to three deaths, with another case receiving publicity in 2015. Preventative measures include wearing waterproof boots when walking in mud or puddles, gloves when handling muddy items, and, if you have a weakened immune system, avoiding being outdoors during heavy rain.
Rose Gardener’s Disease
The relatively rare sporotrichosis or “rose gardener’s disease” is caused by a fungus called Sporothrix that lives in soil, plant matter, and rose bushes. Infections through skin cuts can be common. However, inhalation is also possible.
A small bump may appear up to 12 weeks later. It can grow and develop into an open sore. In 2014, ten cases were reported in the Northern Territory.
Other fungi, such as Aspergillus fumigatus and cryptococcus neoformans, can cause lung infection when inhaled. This is most common in people who have weak immune systems. Turning over damp compost, for example, can release spores in the air.
There are many other hazards in the garden, including poisonous spiders and snakes, harmful pesticides, and toxic fungicides. Poisonous plants can also cause physical injury, such as strains or over-exertion.
Enjoy your time in the yard, but remember to wear shoes and gloves, as well as a dust mask when handling compost or potting soil. If you get a scrape or cut and then develop signs of infection, you should see your doctor immediately.