Gardeners warned to wash their hands after using compost as rare strain of Legionnaire's disease infects six in Scotland
One man has died and five taken ill in unrelated casesRare strain is 'Legionella longbeachae', which authorities believe comes from compostSix compost cases are first to be confirmed in Britain

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UPDATED:

13:57 GMT, 28 May 2012

Gardeners have today been warned to wash their hands after using compost due to a rare strain of Legionnaire's disease, previously unseen in Britain, that has infected six people in Scotland.

One man has died after contracting 'Legionella longbeachae', which authorities believe comes from compost.

Five others in Scotland have become ill from the strain in unrelated cases over the past five years. All were keen gardeners using different brands of compost.

The six cases are the first to be confirmed as linked to compost in Britain.

Handle with care: Gardeners have today been warned to wash their hands after using compost due to a rare strain of Legionnaire's disease that has infected six people in Scotland

Handle with care: Gardeners have today been warned to wash their hands after using compost due to a rare strain of Legionnaire's disease that has infected six people in Scotland

Legionella longbeachae is common in Australia and New Zealand, where warning labels are attached to bags of compost advising gardeners to wear gloves and wash their hands after use.

Dr Martin Donaghy, medical director of Health Protection Scotland, is warning gardeners across the UK to make sure they wash their hands after handling compost, particularly before eating or smoking.

He told the BBC: 'Gardening is a very healthy hobby but like anything in life there's a few risks.

'Over the past five years we've had three confirmed cases of Legionella longbeachae, plus two “probable” and one “possible” so we do need to take steps to reduce the risk even further.'

Dr Donaghy said his department and its counterpart in England is looking into why the 'phenomenon' has so far only been seen in Scotland.

SYMPTOMS OF LEGIONELLA LONGBEACHAE

Symptoms of Legionella longbeachae include headaches, diarrhoea or a dry cough followed by pneumonia.

Hands taking garden soil out of a bag

Most people recover after taking a course of antibiotics.

The rare form of Legionella longbeachae cannot be detected through normal tests.

It is normally caused by the bug Legionella pneumophili, which lives naturally in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, and can also be found in man-made structures containing water such as air conditioning systems

He added: 'Are our services better at picking it up, or is it something to do with the nature of compost up here

'We've got no evidence it's anything to do with the compost so we think it's more to do with being better at picking it up.'

Symptoms of Legionella longbeachae include headaches, diarrhoea or a dry cough followed by pneumonia. Most people recover after taking a course of antibiotics.

Dr Donaghy said that it is possible other cases have gone unreported.

Legionnaire's disease is contracted through tiny droplets of water in the air.

The rare form of Legionella longbeachae cannot be detected through normal tests.

It is normally caused by the bug Legionella pneumophili, which lives naturally in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, and can also be found in man-made structures containing water such as air conditioning systems.

Legionella longbeachae is less common and is mostly found in soil and potting compost.

Dr Donaghy is now in talks with the Scottish government on whether manufacturers should be told to place warning labels on bags of compost.