Residents have been warned to take care when gardening to avoid contracting the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease.

As the weather gets warmer and Australians want to spruce up their gardens, NSW Health is encouraging residents to take care when handling potting mix, mulch and compost.

Legionella longbeachae bacteria is often found in soil products and if inhaled can cause serious lung infection.

Gardeners should read and follow the warnings on the outside of bagged potting mix to avoid contracting the disease, according to NSW Health executive director Jeremy McAnulty.

“Before opening the bag, put on a mask and gloves so you don’t breathe in the dust or get it on your hands. Wetting the potting mix, mulch or compost can reduce the dust blowing up into the air,” Dr McAnulty said.

“Even if you’ve been wearing gloves, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly with soap before eating or drinking, as the bacteria could still be there.”

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include fever, chills, a cough, shortness of breath, aching muscles, headache, tiredness, loss of appetite and diarrhoea.

It can develop up to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria and can be fatal.

‘‘Most people who breathe in the bacteria don’t become ill, but the risk of infection increases if you’re older, a smoker, or have a weakened immune system,” Dr McAnulty said.

There have been 54 cases of the disease caused by breathing in bacteria from potting mix and soil in NSW this year.

There were 132 cases reported in 2022.

For those who do become infected, Legionnaires’ disease can usually be cured with antibiotics; however, some instances require hospitalisation.

It is not spread from person to person, but another strain of the bacteria can be found in contaminated airconditioning systems in large buildings.

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