What don’t I like about gardening? It beautifies your home, it makes great food, it’s also relaxing, it reduces stress and it’s a fun calorie burner.
But it is not without dangers.
“Many outdoor illnesses can be avoided with clothing and precaution,” said Christina Fahlsing, MD, an infectious disease specialist with Spectrum Health Medical Group. “Prevention is key to avoiding problems.”
To protect yourself from diseases caused by mosquitoes and ticks, use insect repellant that contains DEET and wear long-sleeved shirts and pants tucked into socks. You may also want to wear tall rubber boots, since ticks are usually found low to the ground.
It is also important to be up to date with tetanus and diphtheria vaccinations. Tetanus lives in the soil and enters the body through breaks in the skin.
“Gardeners are particularly susceptible to tetanus infections because they dig in the dirt, use sharp tools and handle plants with sharp points,” Dr. Fahlsing said.
Roundworms and other nematodes inhabit most of the soil and some are parasites. The greatest danger of exposure is through ingestion of eggs in vegetables, so don’t dig carrots and eat them in the garden.
Be sure to wash your hands with soap and warm water before handling food.
Wash, peel, or cook all raw vegetables and fruits before eating, particularly those that have been grown on soil fertilized with manure. Wearing shoes and gloves in the garden also helps prevent infection.
Watch out for those punctures. Sporotrichosis is an infection caused by a fungus called Sporothrix schenckii. The fungus enters the skin through small cuts or punctures from thorns, barbs, pine needles, chips or wires from contaminated sphagnum moss, moldy hay, other plant material, or soil. It is also known as rose handler’s disease.
The first signs of sporotrichosis are painless pink, red, or purple bumps, usually on the finger, hand, or arm where the fungus entered the body. It is usually treated with a potassium iodine solution that is diluted and swallowed, but it can cause problems for people with compromised immune systems. Again, wearing gloves will help prevent infection.
- Dress to protect. Wear the proper gear to protect yourself from pests, chemicals, sharp or powered equipment, insects, and the harmful rays of excessive sun.
- Wear sturdy shoes and long pants when using electrical equipment.
- Protect your hearing. Wear hearing protection with electrical equipment.
- Wear gloves to reduce the risk of skin irritations, cuts, and possible infections.
- Be smart about the sun. Wear long sleeves, wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.
- Power and hand tools and equipment can cause serious injury. Pay attention, use chemicals and equipment correctly, and be aware of hazards.
- Follow directions and warning labels on chemicals and lawn and garden equipment.
- Make sure the equipment is working properly.
- Keep harmful chemicals, tools and equipment out of the reach of children.