Warning…wear a mask !

Gregor Campbell, is joining doctors this autumn to warn landscapers who have asthma or a weak immune system to be on alert for a deadly fungus that lurks in compost heaps and in piles of rotting leaves.
Experts advise wearing masks to protect against the microscopic dust that is given off when rotting leaf, plant and tree mulch is moved, particularly when people tidy up their gardens in preparation for winter.
Father of three Gregor (47) knows first-hand the devastating affect the fungus can have. Two years ago he developed a chronic fungal infection after cutting up wet and rotting logs to store and dry out for the winter.
He recalls: “That summer I was being treated by the doctor for a lung condition, but I had been cycling to work every day and was I feeling well. One weekend I started getting night sweats and on the Monday I was in hospital. I was told I had pneumonia and was treated with antibiotics. I wasn’t getting better. I lost a lot of weight. I only started to recover when the consultant correctly diagnosed chronic pulmonary Aspergillosis and prescribed me special drugs to fight the fungal infection.”
Gregor now only has two thirds of his breathing capacity after a fungal mass the size of a tennis ball was discovered in his lungs, and he has had to reduce his teaching time to three days a week. However, he considers himself one of the lucky ones. “I was diagnosed pretty quickly and I am being looked after by the experts. I always thought that outside dirt was safe dirt. The suddenness of the whole thing shocked me the most. I would caution anyone contemplating clearing up their garden for the winter to wear a mask – and keep well away from moldy logs and rotting leaves.”
Professor David Denning and his team at the National Aspergillosis Centre, in Manchester, England, have issued the warning after treating a growing number of patients who have developed the condition from inhaling the Aspergillus fungal spores. He explains: “Keen gardeners bed down their gardens for the winter. For most of us there is no problem. But for others it can cause long term breathing difficulties and damage that can be treated but never cured.
“Most of us are either immune to the fungus or have a sufficiently healthy system to fight the infection. But, in asthma sufferers it can produce coughing and wheeziness, and in people with weak or damaged immune systems, such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, Aids patients and people who have an auto immune disease like Gregor, the fungus can cause pulmonary Aspergillosis – a condition which can cause irreparable, and sometime fatal, damage to the lungs and sinuses.
“Aspergillus is a fungus that occurs everywhere in the world and normally lives on dead animal or plant material, in this role it is vitally important to the environment and for the recycling of organic material necessary for life.
It produces microscopically small spores that are extremely light and float easily in the air and by this mechanism it is spread.
“Normally, when aspergillus spores are inhaled by people, their immune system recognises the spores as foreign and they are destroyed and no infection arises. Occasionally, in an individual with a weakened immune system or who has a pre-existing medical condition the aspergillus spores can grow inside a lung or a wound. My advice would be when in doubt wear a protective mask to be safe rather than sorry,” he adds.
Don’t miss Getting ready for Winter in the next issue of The Landscaper

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