Protect yourself from Legionnaires’ disease when gardening

With the warmer weather luring people into their gardens, the local Medical Officer of Health is reminding gardeners to take steps to reduce the risk of becoming infected with Legionnaires’ disease.

Legionnaires’ disease, also known as Legionellosis, is caused by the bacteria legionella which is present in soil and soil products. The bacteria can cause serious infection when inhaled.

“People using packaged or home-made compost or soil products should be aware that the bacteria can be present,” says Dr Gregory Evans, Te Whatu Ora Medical Officer of Health at Toi Te Ora Public Health.   

Legionnaires’ disease can vary in severity from a flu-like illness to severe pneumonia. Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches and pains, shortness of breath and coughing.

“Anyone who develops such symptoms after handling compost or potting mix should see their doctor or health provider without delay,” says Dr Evans. 

The disease is more common in older people, smokers, people with underlying lung disease and other long-term conditions such as diabetes. The disease does not spread from person to person.

There are simple steps you can take to reduce the risk of getting Legionnaires’ disease, says Dr Evans. “People should take care to avoid inhaling the dust when turning compost and gardens, when handling packaged products, and when collecting or handling trailer loads from bulk suppliers,” he says.

The following measures will help people avoid catching Legionnaires’ disease when working with compost and potting mix:

  • Wear a well-fitting face mask
  • Avoid working in unventilated places such as closed sheds and greenhouses unless wearing a mask
  • Open potting mix by cutting rather than ripping the bag and open the bag away from your face
  • When potting plants or preparing gardens for planting, gently wet the soil or compost first to reduce dust
  • Wear gardening gloves
  • Wash your hands after handling potting mix or compost and before touching your face or removing your mask

Retailers can also help to reduce risk of Legionnaires’ disease by displaying health warnings and safety information prominently in areas where potting mix and other soil products are sold. More information on signage and customer information recommendations can be found on the WorkSafe website. 

Enjoy the garden but remember to read and follow health advice on product labels and information provided by bulk suppliers of soil and compost products.

For more information on Legionnaire’s Disease, visit

2023 Legionnaires Disease

Image: The local Medical Officer of Health is reminding gardeners to be vigilant when using compost and potting mix