Make your garden one of delights, not dangers

Gardening has many benefits, but take care to limit your risks.
Protect yourself while gardening. There are more dangers in the soil than you might expect. (For Spectrum Health Beat)
Protect yourself while gardening. There are more dangers in the soil than you might expect. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

What’s not to like about gardening? It beautifies your home, produces great food, plus it’s relaxing, stress reducing and a fun calorie-burner.

But it’s not without its hazards.

“A lot of outdoor diseases can be avoided with clothing and precaution,” said Christina Leonard, MD, an infectious disease specialists with the Spectrum Health Medical Group. “Prevention is key in avoiding problems.”

Avoiding infection in the garden

To protect yourself from diseases caused by mosquitoes and ticks, use insect repellent containing DEET and wear long-sleeved shirts and pants tucked into your socks. You may also want to wear high rubber boots since ticks are usually located close to the ground.

It’s also important to be up-to-date on your tetanus/diphtheria vaccination. 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. Leonard said.

Roundworms and other nematodes inhabit most soil and some are parasitic. The biggest exposure danger is through ingesting eggs on vegetables, so don’t pull 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 in soil fertilized with manure. Wearing footwear and gloves in the garden also helps prevent infection.

Watch 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, splinters or wires from contaminated sphagnum moss, moldy hay, other plant materials or soil. It’s 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’s usually treated with a solution of potassium iodine that is diluted and swallowed, but can cause problems for people with compromised immune systems. Again, wearing gloves will help prevent infection.

Avoiding injury in the garden

  • Dress to protect. Use appropriate gear to protect yourself from pests, chemicals, sharp or motorized equipment, insects and harmful rays of too much sun.
  • Wear sturdy shoes and long pants when using power equipment.
  • Protect your hearing. Wear ear protection with power equipment.
  • Wear gloves to lower the risk for skin irritations, cuts and potential infections.
  • Be sun smart. Wear long sleeves, wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses and sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.
  • Powered and manual tools and equipment can cause serious injury. Pay attention, use chemicals and equipment properly, and be aware of hazards.
  • Follow instructions and warning labels on chemicals and lawn and garden equipment.
  • Make sure equipment is working properly.
  • Sharpen tools carefully.
  • Keep harmful chemicals, tools and equipment out of children’s reach.

For more information, check out more gardening health and safety tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Comments (3)

    • How wonderful. We’re so glad to hear we’re making a difference in your life, Roseanne! You’re right – it’s never too late to make a change. Hope you’re enjoying life to the max! Cheers, Cheryl Welch, Health Beat Editor

  • This article was very eye opening for me being the gardener that I am! I am sometimes lacks when working with the dirt not thinking of cuts and abrasions to my skin. Wearing the correct clothes, brimmed hat, shoes and goggles is very essential for a great outdoor experience in your garden.

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