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Legionnaire’s Disease from potting soil, soil and rainwater puddles

According to a study published in the September 2014 issue of the Journal of Applied Microbiology, researchers have discovered the Legionella bacteria in natural soil and rainwater puddles. Exposure to Legionella is most common via inhalation of aerosolized Legionella contaminated water droplets or by aspiration or choking on Legionella contaminated drinking water. However, this study confirms the ubiquitous nature of the bacteria itself and the importance of doing a full exposure assessment in the case of a Legionella outbreak. 

Legionnaire’s disease (LD) is a form of pneumonia caused by exposure to the aquatic bacteria known as Legionella pneumophila.  LD develops 2-14 days after exposure and symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, flu-like symptoms such as chills and body aches, and confusion or other mental changes.  LD is diagnosed by a medical provider and antibiotics are required for treatment. Fortunately, not everyone who is exposed to Legionella will develop the illness and the disease is not spread from person to person.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) initially reported the first US cases of Legionnaire’s disease caused by handling potting soil in 2000. Two women and one man from Oregon, Washington and California, respectively, were hospitalized with pneumonia-type symptoms. Laboratory results confirmed the presence of Legionella bacteria in the potting soil used by the women. The man died from his illness and his potting soil was disposed of prior to obtaining samples. Other cases have been documented in Australia and Japan.

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**Note, this post has been updated to reflect the correct information regarding the CDC. The first cases of LD were reported in 2000, not the summer of 2014, as the previous article mentioned.**

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