Pot mix blamed for spike in dis­ease

The Press - - Front Page - CATE BROUGHTON

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.

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