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Health risks in the garden!

August 2016

At this time of year, many of us spend lots of time in the garden. It is one of the joys of the warmer months here in the UK. But few of us are aware of the risks that hover just outside our back door!

Obviously there are physical dangers, such as tripping over a hose or perhaps stepping on a rake; but it seems there is also a host of other problems lurking out there waiting to get us if we are not careful.
Some of the dangers lurking in the garden include:

Legionnaires Disease.  Older people with reduced immune systems are more vulnerable to this disease.  Legionella pneumonophila which leads to legionnaires disease occurs naturally at low levels in watercourses but can increase in still and standing water especially when the temperature is above 20 degrees C. It's usually caught by breathing in small droplets of contaminated water. So in the summer months water buts, troughs, and even standing watering cans that haven’t been used for a while, can all be homes to legionella pneumonophila.

Composting. Many keen gardens compost, so it is good to be aware of Bioaerosois,  an airborne micro-organism which includes spores, bacteria and fungi. This occurs naturally in decomposing material and multiplies in warmer weather, when it becomes more of a risk.  These can lead to asthma or bronchitis.

Tetanus.  Most of us think that tetanus is caught from perhaps a rusty nail or being bitten by a dog or some other animal. However, tetanus bacteria can also be found in normal soil in the garden. This means that even a simple cut or scratch while you are gardening can put you at risk and this risk increases with age.

Well’s disease can cause flu like symptoms and can have serious complications and is spread through contact with soil or water contaminated with the urine of some wild animals including dogs and rats. It is rare, but wet vegetation in the garden could be contaminated with rat urine, so the risk is there.

Plants themselves can also cause problems. Chrysanthemums, Leyland cypress and Peruvian lilies for instance can cause severe allergic reactions in some. Other plants such as cuckoo plant, euphorbia and oleander can produce a fluid which can cause a burning sensation and blistering, and also irritate the eyes. It can be severe enough to produce a rash or red weals which need to be treated with an anti-inflammatory cream. Even geraniums, tomatoes, roses and poinsettias have potential ot cause skin irritation.

Obviously there are ways to make your garden safer...wearing gloves and appropriate protective clothing for the work you are doing is obvious. Avoid potting in confined spaces, and of course always wash your hands after gardening, especially before handling food. Keeping your tetanus injections up to date is also important.

If you have grandchildren or pets, it is also important to know which plants are poisonous and to teach young visitors to your garden not to play with growing plants and certainly not eat anything before checking with adults.

The Royal Horticultural Society has a good advice page which includes a full list of plants that can cause problems.


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