Warnings after potting mix incident

Jackson Lavell-LeeBusselton Dunsborough Times
Email Jackson Lavell-Lee
Michael Morley and his penicillin drip after potting mix almost killed him.
Camera IconMichael Morley and his penicillin drip after potting mix almost killed him. Credit: Jackson Lavell-Lee

Gardeners have been urged to wear protective clothing after a Busselton man endured a month in hospital suffering from a rare form of infection, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus, after using potting mix without wearing gloves.

Michael Morley, 55, was rushed first to Bunbury Regional Hospital and then to Sir Charles Gairdener Hospital after being diagnosed with the disease, which had wrapped around his spinal cord.

The grandfather, who has spinal arthritis from a life as a truck driver, said he could have been paralysed or even died, saying the “smart germ was preying on my weak spot”.

“The doctor said it was touch and go there for a while,” he said.

Mr Morley was helping a friend with gardening tasks in Perth on January 7.

The next morning he awoke covered in sweat and knew something was drastically wrong.

“I lost 15 kilos in three weeks,” he said. “I’ve never sweated so much in my life.”

The fly-in, fly-out worker lost his job due to the infection which he said was the “worst pain I’ve ever experienced.” He was discharged with a penicillin drip which he must top up every few days at the Busselton Health Campus.

Health Department environmental health director Jim Dodds said the most common strain of potting mix disease was Legionella in WA (Legionella longbeachae), which was associated with breathing in aerosols from potting mixes, gardening soils, mulches, composts and soil conditioners.

“It is important that when handling these materials, people take appropriate measures to minimise the risk of harm,” Mr Dodds said.

“This includes always wearing gloves, keeping the mix damp while in use, wearing a face mask and washing your hands after use.”

Early symptoms are fever, chills, aching muscles and joints, a dry cough, headache tiredness, loss of appetite and shortness of breath.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails