What’s not to love about gardening? It beautifies your home, produces great food, plus it’s relaxing, stress-reducing, and a fun calorie burner.
But it is not without risks.
“Many external illnesses can be prevented with clothing and precautions,” said Christina Leonard, MD, an infectious disease specialist in the Spectrum Health medical group. “Prevention is essential to avoid problems.”
Avoiding infections in the garden
To protect yourself from illnesses 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 tall rubber boots, as ticks are usually located close to the ground.
It is also important to be up to date on your tetanus / diphtheria vaccination. Tetanus lives in the soil and enters the body through skin breaks.
“Gardeners are particularly susceptible to tetanus infections because they dig in the soil, use sharp tools, and handle plants with sharp tips,” Dr. Leonard said.
Roundworms and other nematodes inhabit most soils and some are parasitic. The greatest danger of exposure is the ingestion of eggs on the vegetables, so do not pull the carrots and eat them in the garden.
Be sure to wash your hands with soap and lukewarm water before handling food. Wash, peel, or cook all raw vegetables and fruits before eating them, especially those that have been grown in soil fertilized with manure. Wearing shoes and gloves in the garden also helps prevent infections.
Watch out for these 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, shards or threads of contaminated sphagnum moss, moldy hay, other plant material or soil. It is also known as rose handler 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 which is diluted and swallowed, but can cause problems for people with weakened immune systems. Again, wearing gloves will help prevent infection.
Avoiding injuries in the garden
- Dress to protect. Use proper equipment to protect yourself from pests, chemicals, sharp or motorized equipment, insects, and harmful sunlight.
- Wear sturdy shoes and long pants when using power equipment.
- Protect your hearing. Wear hearing protection with electrical equipment.
- Wear gloves to reduce the risk of skin irritation, cuts, and potential infections.
- Be aware of 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. Be careful, use chemicals and equipment correctly, and be aware of the dangers.
- 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.