It’s gardening season! I love passing by homes with well manicured front yards, with all the pretty, colorful flowers. Unfortunately, these pretty gardens sometimes come at a price to the owners or their gardeners. Not just a cost price, but a direct health price too!
Already this spring, I’ve seen a couple bad infections related to gardening. These were bad abscesses requiring hospitalization. In both cases there was not just one, but at least two abscesses along the affected limb. It so happened that they both got pricked while attending to their rose gardens.
There are so many infections that can be obtained from gardening (too numerous to mention). This has to do with the fact that soil is a rich source of microorganisms. It contains numerous bacteria, fungi, parasites, and even viruses. Additionally, if there are animals around, their droppings and urine can contain germs that contaminate soil.
How exactly does one get an infection from gardening?
1 – A wound present anywhere on the body can become contaminated with soil. Dirty hands accidentally rubbing the eye or put in the mouth, can spread infection.
2 – Specific microorganisms are present on some plants. The classic example is the fungus Sporothrix, found on rose thorns. This causes sporotrichosis. Puncture wounds from thorns can introduce fungi (or bacteria) deep into the skin. Thorns may not leave obvious wounds and so it may be days before one notices that there is a problem.
Alternatively, the tip of a thorn may break under the skin, maintaining a potent nidus of infection. A red area forms, then a nodule, then maybe an abscess. Sometimes the lymph nodes (glands) in the associated area become very swollen and tender.
3 – Fungal spores can be inhaled from the soil and pneumonia can arise. The fungus aspergillus, is a famous example. Alternatively, an allergic lung reaction with wheezing develops, rather than pneumonia.
4 – Bites from insects can cause infection, for example West Nile fever from mosquitos, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease from ticks.
The weaker a person’s immune system, the more likely the chance of one of these infections. Elderly persons and pregnant women are particularly prone.
Planning to do some gardening? Here’s how to decrease your chance of getting an infection while doing so.
1 – Wear a face mask when turning soil to prevent inhaling fungal spores.
2 – If potting soil, do this in open, well ventillated areas, rather than in a small enclosed room.
3 – Though it may be hot, as much as possible all parts of the body should be covered – wear long sleeves, gloves and boots when gardening.
4 – If planning to clear or cultivate a new area of soil, it should be sprinkled wet first, so that dust with fungal and bacterial spores is less likely to stir into the air for you to inhale.
5 – Inspect skin after completion of gardening, to ensure there are no ticks. If there are ticks, remove them promptly with blunt forceps and inspect for mouth parts.
6 – Wear insect repellent containing at least 15% DEET if not able to avoid mosquitos and other insects.
7 – Wash hands (bathe if possible) after completing gardening chores, and especially before eating.
8 – If you suspect that you may have a medical condition which may weaken your immune system, it is strongly advised that you ask your doctor if it is safe for you to garden. Examples of such medical conditions include cancer on chemotherapy, rheumatoid arthritis and taking a medication such as Humira, uncontrolled diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Pregnancy.
Happy and safe gardening!
The featured image is of the flower patch around the mail box at my home. My husband planted it this spring. Do you have a pretty garden? Feel free to share a picture with us!