Monday, August 06, 2007
Can Gardening Kill You?
A few months back, I posted about medicinal plants in my yard and neighbourhood. Then I thought about the particular hazards of gardening - reasons why we might need to put those medicinal agents to work! This combines two topics I know something about (gardening being the one I know less about) and is an intriguing assortment one doesn't often see in the gardening magazines:
(1) Tetanus - caused by the ubiquitous soil bacteria, Clostridium tetani. It is easily prevented by a tetanus shot every 10 years (are you up to date?). Can be caused by soil contamination of any cut. Slow death by tetanic spasm of all your muscles. Gruesome.
(2) Sporotrichosis - Death by a rose: are you a rose fancier with a chronic ulcer on your hand? Moss, barberry bushes, and roses are common sources of the fungus Sporothrix schenckii. Infection is more common in those with poor immune systems (chemotherapy, AIDS, diabetes). Here's a good reason to have thick leather gloves when working with roses!
(3) Skin Problems/Dermatitis - Irritant, Phototoxic, and Allergic:
e.g. Berloque (phototoxic) dermatitis - Mark of the lime: the oil of the bergamot lime has been used in perfumes and causes a skin response similar to an overactive sunburn, turning areas brown after sun-exposure. Perfumes are now required to be bergapten-free because of this problem. Photodermatitis can also be caused by contact with celery, parsley, parsnips, giant hogweed, or carrots plus sunshine.
e.g. Irritant and allergic dermatitis - Euphorbia (spurge) and primulas commonly come with a warning about skin irritation caused by touching the plant. "Tulip fingers" or "Garlic Fingertip Dermatitis" are caused by frequent exposure to these plants, just as florists can be sensitized to Alstromeria. Poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac: most gardeners should know to avoid these!
(4) Allergic cross-reactions- Did you know that an allergy to ragweed can be associated with a reaction to chamomile tea? Asthmatics may be severely affected. Botanically, ragweed and chamomile are quite close (both in family Compositae). For that matter the cross-reaction can also apply to bananas and canteloupe.
(5) Insect bites and stings - They are annoying to the most of us and deadly for those with anaphylactic reactions to bees and wasps. Perhaps an Epi-Pen should be one of your gardening tools. We northerners can rejoice that the mosquito that carries West Nile Virus hasn't ventured this far north.
(6) Back injuries, tendonitis, sprains and strains...do you stretch before gardening? I don't, but maybe I should. Maybe I should also leave the hauling of large boulders to machines and stronger people.
(7) Hernias - Again, leave the heavy lifting to the appropriate people/machines.
(8) Parasitic infestation - I recall a case of some Vancouver city folk who decided to fertilize their garden with their own excreta and shared vegetables with the neighbours. The carrots tasted fine, but then the neigbours came to the ER with foot long Ascaris lumbricoides worms in a jar, wondering where they picked these up. Moral of the story: Don't poop in your garden and don't let the dog do it either. Frighteningly, 4 million Americans are believed to be infected, though most probably don't know it. Ascaris is indigenous to the rural southeastern US, where cross-infection by pigs infected with A. suum in believed to occur. Contact with cat feces can cause Toxoplasmosis, an infection hazardous to pregnant women and persons with AIDS.
(9) Problems related to ingestion of pesticides - diverse effects; a good reason to try cultural methods before resorting to chemicals.
(10) Legionnaire's disease - this severe lung infection is generally associated with contaminated air conditioners, but in 2000, there were the first documented reports of potting soil being the common source in a group of infections in the United States.
(11) Eating poisonous plants - hopefully, your plant identification skills will steer you away from the Digitalis (Foxglove), Aconitum, and Ricinus (Castor bean).
(12) Sunburn and skin cancer - Melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma are all at least partially-related to sun-exposure. Hats, clothing, sunscreen, and sunglasses are great ideas. Besides, sun exposure ages skin prematurely and we all want to be beautiful old gardeners!
(13) Other animal bites - snakes, dogs, cats, bats (my dad was bitten by a rabid bat - was treated, lived to tell about it) etc.
(14) Bumps, scrapes, and slivers - we put up with alot for the sake of our gardens!
P.S. I see that the caring government of Canada has established a website on garden safety that covers a few things I've left out.
Wow! I can't believe I came up with 14 categories of garden hazards. Congratulations if you actually read that whole list. Now go out and garden...with caution.