Potting mix puts mum in coma
A woman is in an induced coma on life support after being struck down by legionnaires’ disease last week.
Jillian Wadsworth, 40, was rushed to Christchurch Hospital last Thursday after going to her GP for the third time with flu-like symptoms, her sister-in-law Grace Fleming said.
On Friday, the Rangiora woman was put in an induced coma. On Saturday night she was flown to Auckland Hospital, where she was put on life support.
Her lungs and kidneys were failing. Doctors were watching her heart closely, Fleming said.
Doctors told the family Wadsworth remains in a critical condition and has not shown signs of improvement.
The single mother of son Cade,11, was an ‘‘avid gardener’’ and the family believe she contracted the disease from gardening with potting mix a week before she became ill.
Wadsworth’s mother and Cade were flown to Auckland to be with her.
Fleming said the family were in shock but wanted to raise awareness about the disease.
‘‘To go from just having a chest infection to potentially lifethreatening illness is a pretty big jump.’’
Wadsworth is one of 10 Cantabrians struck by the disease in the past week with the spike being blamed on a boost in the use of potting mix for spring gardening.
Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey said two patients were admitted to intensive care.
The particular strain in these cases, Legionella longbeachae bacteria, is found in compost and potting mix.
Humphrey hoped the spike would be a wake-up call for gardeners.
‘‘If you do get this illness it can be very serious. It can kill you and if it doesn’t kill you sometimes you can end up in hospital for a very long time and it’s preventable.’’
Death from legionnaires’ is caused by severe pneumonia, where the lungs become overwhelmed with infection and stop functioning, Humphrey said.
‘‘The problem we find time and time again is people say ‘I knew I was supposed to take precautions [with compost and potting mix], but I didn’t’,’’ he said.
Gardeners who had opened bags of compost for years without precautions should not be complacent.
Gardeners should cut open their potting mix bag in the open to avoid inhaling Legionella spores. Humphrey said people should use a mask and gloves and wash their hands afterwards.
Legionella bacterium grew in warm, moist environments in compost, including home supplies, and potting mix.
Precautions were also necessary for bags of potting mix that were opened last season as the bacterium could survive winter.
Humphrey said symptoms were the same as pneumonia with patients developing a fever and becoming short of breath, which could make it difficult to diagnose.
In the past 12 months, 271 cases of legionnaires’ disease were notified nationwide, a Canterbury District Health Board spokeswoman said. Of the patients hospitalised with the disease, 30 per cent required intensive care unit treatment.
Jillian Wadsworth, with her 11-year-old son, Cade, is in an induced coma after contracting legionnaires’ about a week after gardening.