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Woman fighting for life amidst Canterbury legionnaires disease spike

A Canterbury woman is fighting for her life amidst a spike legionnaires disease cases in the region.

The Canterbury DHB has confirmed 10 people have been struck by the illness in the last week, most of which are suspected to be potting mix related.

The worst case is Rangiora mother Jillian Wadsworth, who has been transferred to the ICU in Auckland in an induced coma.

Her family want to know why it took more several visits to the GP to diagnose the disease.

Her sister in law Grace Fleming said Wadsworth wasn't diagnosed until her third GP visit.

"I imagine that had it been caught when she first went to the doctor's, then yes, it would definitely not have been as deeply set in her lungs as it was."

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, Alistair Humphrey, said it's very difficult to detect Legionnaires disease, as its symptoms are similar to other pneumonia like illnesses.

A large number of Canterbury gardeners are contracting legionnaires disease - as they set up their flower beds for the summer.

At least 10 cases have been reported to the DHB in the last week - with one patient in intensive care.

Most of the cases are being traced back to a misuse of potting mix.

Medical Officer of Health Alistair Humphrey said 10 in a week is an unusually high number.

He said it is contributing to an already bad season of Legionnaires cases, with Canterbury the worst affected.

"I'm told that it is one, if not the, most expensive infectious disease in terms of the intensive care unit here in Christchurch."

Humphrey said it may be because of the wet winter, or that there are more people heading out into the garden.

"Alternatively, there's a possibility that people are becoming complacent about handling potting mix and are not following the safety procedures that we recommend."

Humphrey said gardeners should use gloves, wash their hands regularly and open new bags correctly, when using potting mix.

Unfortunately, he says most gardeners already know this.

"Almost always when we get [Legionnaires] we hear from people who say 'Oh yes, I realise I was supposed to be more careful but I wasn't"."

Grace Fleming said her sister-in-law probably wasn't aware gardening carried such a risk.

"To be honest, there are a lot of gardeners in the family and none of them were aware that it is such a huge risk."

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