Harmful Bacteria In Soil: What You Need To Know

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Recently there’s been a surge in concern over harmful bacteria in soil. Specifically, people are panicking over the risk of contracting Legionnaires disease from potting mix.

Although Legionnaires disease can be fatal, it’s relatively rare to contract the disease from potting mix. However, it seems that the online world would glorify this into something that might scare people off of gardening.

Can you really die from using potting mix?

There is some potential risk of getting sick from your potting mix. That is technically true. But let’s not get worked up just yet.

Think about how many times in your life you’ve dealt with potting mix. And now consider how many times you have died?

Okay, that’s ridiculous, but so is the hype that is surrounding this new fear-mongering campaign. And I really do get frustrated when I see articles that glaze over the facts just to get clicks.

So here are some facts about Legionnaires disease that you need to know.

→ Most people who are exposed to Legionella will not become ill, or they will have a mild flu like illness that resolves in 2-5 days.

Studies show potting mix is a low risk factor for illness.

→ Legionella lives in water and moist soil – all types of soil not just potting mix

→ According to the Mayo Clinic, soil and waterborne Legionella found outdoors rarely causes illness.

→ While sporadic (and tragic), most cases of Legionnaires disease do not occur from using potting mix. It is more often seen in outbreaks in hospitals and nursing homes.

→ Smoking cigarettes greatly increases your risk of lung disease from Legionella (among other things).

→ Those with weakened immune systems are at greater risk for infections.

I know the media would have you wearing gloves and a mask every time you pot your plants, but you should know that you’re more likely to become infected with Legionella from hot tubs, air conditioning, grocery store produce misters, and water dripping from hanging planters.

This is because the most common means of transmission of Legionella is through inhalation of infected aerosolized water droplets.

How to stay safe when using potting mix

If you’re really worried about it, you can reduce the risk of illness from potting mix by: 

  • Quitting smoking if applicable
  • Wearing gloves and/or washing your hands well after gardening
  • Potting your plants in a well-ventilated area
  • See your doctor if you become ill within 10 days of handling soil, and your illness does not resolve within 5 days.

Legionella isn’t the only thing in soil that can make you sick

Since we’re talking about soil-borne illnesses, it’s worth mentioning that there are several disease causing pathogens that you can be exposed to by working with soil. These include:





Let’s not forget Tetanus, Anthrax, Botulism, and Clostridium and gastrointestinal illnesses like B. cereus, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. And that’s not even counting all the fungal infections including ringworm, coccidioides, and Blastomycosis. (source)

And none of that should scare you off gardening!

I only mention all this to highlight the fact that harmful organisms exist everywhere in the world around us.

Your kids bring home colds and viruses from school all the time. Every doorknob you touch is loaded with billions of bacteria. Even your kitchen sink can harbor pathogenic bacteria. So let’s not escalate the hype and scare people away from gardening.

Gardening is so good for you

Gardening is excellent for your mental health. One of the reasons for that is because there are also beneficial bacteria in soil that actually help with depression. And let’s not forget that gardening is great exercise.

The outdoors is so much healthier than your indoor environment. So don’t freak out over the latest health scare, okay?

Get out in your garden and grow your plants!

Just practice good hygiene and don’t forget to wash your hands after you’ve been working in the garden. 

Happy gardening! 🙂

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