Pot mix blamed for spike in disease
The family of an ‘‘avid gardener’’ on life support after Legionnaires’ disease struck her down believe potting mix is to blame.
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 she 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.
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.
Doctors told Wadsworth’s family she remains in a critical condition and has shown no signs of improvement.
The employment adviser is a single mother to son Cade, 11. Her family believe the ‘‘avid gardener’’ contracted the disease from using potting mix a week before she became ill.
Wadsworth’s mother and Cade have flown to Auckland to be with her. The family has set up a fundraising page.
Fleming said the family was 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.’’
She had ‘‘no idea’’ about the disease before Wadsworth fell ill.
Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey said two of the 10 recent patients were admitted to intensive care.
The particular strain in these cases, Legionella long beachae 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.’’
In 2005 three people died from the disease in Canterbury.
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.
‘‘They will say ‘it’s never been a problem before’ and then they will develop a very serious disease one day that could kill them and sometimes does kill them.’’
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 necessary for bags of potting mix that were opened last season as the bacterium could survive a Canterbury winter.
Smokers should be particularly careful as data showed they were more likely to get Legionnaires’, Humphrey said.
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.
Treatment includes antibiotics and, if seriously affected, patients need mechanical help to breathe in an incubator on a life support machine for up to three weeks.
Rangiora woman Jillian Wadsworth.