Monday, June 23, 2014

Health Hazards for Gardeners? by Donna Duffy

Gardening is great for your health, right? The benefits of gardening-related exercise are well known. Lesser known are some serious health hazards that you could encounter. Remember,  your physician is always your first line defense and should be consulted anytime you have symptoms that are concerning.

Gardening, yard work and landscape injuries can be as simple as a scrape or as severe as a deep puncture wound, but any that break the skin can leave you at risk for tetanus, a serious and potentially fatal bacterial disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost one-third of reported tetanus cases come from gardening or farming injuries.
The first signs of a tetanus infection include headache and muscle spasms of the jaw. The tetanus booster shot is an effective means of prevention and should be administered every 10 years. If you can’t remember the last time you had a tetanus shot, it’s probably time you got the booster – check with your physician.

Tetanus isn’t the only disease that poses a threat to gardeners. Sporotrichosis, also known as the “rose thorn disease” is an infection caused by a fungus found in vegetation. It usually infects the skin of people handling thorny plants, sphagnum moss or baled hay. The fungus enters the skin through small cuts or punctures from thorns, barbs, pine needles, splinters or wires from contaminated sphagnum moss, moldy hay or other plant materials or soil. The infection appears as small painless lumps or bumps resembling an insect bite 1-12 weeks after exposure. The infected site can be red, pinkish or purple in color. The bump usually appears on the finger, hand or arm where fungus first entered through a break in the skin. This is followed by additional bumps that can break open and resemble boils.  Eventually, they look like open sores that are very slow to heal. These symptoms call for an immediate visit to the doctor.

Even more dangerous than tetanus, though far more rare, is the possibility of a deadly pathogen traveling in consumer-grade fertilizer. Over the years there have been a few isolated cases of E. coli contamination traced back to a home garden fertilized with manure. Composting is effective in combating manure pathogens since it generates enough heat to kill many bacteria.

Your best daily defense against these diseases is to wear gloves and long sleeves, clean your tools after use, thoroughly wash anything you plan to eat, and scrub your hands when you’re through gardening. So, take precautions and go ahead! Get out there and enjoy all the positive health benefits of gardening.