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Peat substitutes are leading to more cases of Legionella in compost, scientists who have found the bacteria in 14 of the 22 brands of compost they tested suggest.
Four of the composts contained Legionella longbeachae, which can cause Legionnaires’ disease.
A recent outbreak in Scotland linked to Legionella longbeachae in compost has left six people infected since August, with garden centres issuing advice to customers.
Dr Tara Beattie, from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, who led the new research, said moves to phase out the use of peat in compost for environmental reasons could lead to greater incidence of Legionella longbeachae and therefore more infections.
Dr Beattie’s findings are reported in the journal Clinical Microbiology and Infection, although her paper does not name the brands of compost that were tested adding: "It should be emphasised though, that although Legionella seem to be common in compost, human infection is very rare, especially if you consider the volume of compost sold and used.
"But with any potential source of infection precautions should always be taken. The occurrence of these bacteria in composts in Australia and New Zealand, and the cases of infection that have been traced to compost has resulted in hygiene warnings on compost packaging in these countries, and this is something manufacturers in the UK may wish to consider."