NHS Lothian investigates four cases of Legionella

NHS Lothian is currently investigating four cases of Legionella longbeachae linked to gardening compost. 

Two patients are currently being treated in intensive care in hospital. While two other patients have been discharged from hospital.

Symptoms of Legionella longbeachae include headaches, diarrhoea or a dry cough followed by pneumonia.  Most people recover after treatment with antibiotics however those with underlying medical problems are more vulnerable. 

The exact way in which Legionella longbeachae infection is passed from compost to people, is not currently known but is assumed to be through breathing in very small dust particles or very small drops of contaminated water. It is not transmitted from person to person.

Dr Richard Othieno, Consultant in Public Health and Chair of the Incident Management Team, NHS Lothian said: “This type of Legionella is quite rare in that unlike other strains it has never been identified in man-made water systems, like cooling towers.

“We are working with experts to trace the source of the infection and samples of the compost have been sent for testing.

“We know that each of the four cases are keen gardeners and had purchased different products containing compost prior to acquiring the infection.

“Gardening is a healthy hobby but there are risks and it is important that people take some simple precautions when working in their garden or with gardening products.

“I would like to add further reassurance that the risk to the wider public is low.”

Below is some helpful information for anyone handling garden mixes (bagged or unbagged) such as potting mix, mulches, composts and garden soils:


·         read and follow any manufacturers’ instructions on the bag

·         open any compost or potting mix bags carefully, if possible using a blade

·         wear gloves when handling compost

·         keep the door open in greenhouses or sheds when potting-up plants or filling hanging baskets

·         wear a mask if the air is dusty, particularly indoors

·         wash hands immediately after use of compost

·         if you are going to smoke while gardening, please wash your hands before doing so.


Notes to editors

·    The four cases in Lothian range from between 62-84 years old.

·    Legionella longbeachae can be found in potting mixes, compost heaps and composted animal manures. How Legionella longbeachae are spread is uncertain, but it is thought that they are breathed in or spread from hand to mouth. The bacteria can remain on hands contaminated by handling potting mix for periods of up to one hour. They can be readily removed from the hands by washing. Legionella infection cannot be caught from other people or animals. The risk of Legionella infection is not limited to gardeners, but the use of potting mixes, composts and other soils puts them at greater risk.

·    Given the popularity of gardening in the age groups affected and the very common use of compost, the overall level of risk from using these types of products is very low.

·    There is no link between the current cases and the outbreak of Legionella pneumophila in south west Edinburgh in 2012.