Killer Roses

Posted by Janice Peterson

Gardening is considered a healthy occupation, full of fresh air, exercise and Zen-like moments of contemplation. But there’s a dangerous side to gardening: accidents, injuries, allergies, insect stings, sunburn, dehydration and infections. With good judgement, most of these hazards are preventable. The following are a few infections gardeners should try to avoid:

Rose Gardener’s Disease – Also known as sporotrichosis. This fungal disease is caused by Sporothrix schenckii, which occurs naturally in soil, hay, sphagnum moss and on plants. It’s point of entry is small cuts or punctures to the skin (as can happen when handling thorny roses). Once established, it causes lesions on the fingers, hands and arms. Prevention includes wearing long sleeves and heavy gloves, especially when working with roses.

Other infections caused by rose thorns – The story of Constable Albert Alexander’s unfortunate demise in 1941 is an excellent example of death by rose thorn. Alexander, a constable and apparent gardener from Oxford, England, accidentally scratched his face with a rose thorn. A bacterial infection resulted, probably from both Staphyloccus and Streptoccus, and soon became life-threatening (he quickly lost an eye to the infection). He became the first human to receive treatment with a new drug called penicillin. Within 24 hours his condition markedly improved, however, there was not enough penicillin to continue his treatment and he eventually succumbed.

Tetanus – Also known as lockjaw. At my yearly physical my doctor and I chatted about gardening. She then reminded me about the importance for gardeners to be up-to-date on their tetanus boosters. Tetanus is caused by a soil-borne bacterium, Clostridium tetani. This anaerobic bacterium thrives in a low-oxygen environment, so if a gardener gets a puncture wound while working around soil the bacterium may have the perfect opportunity to establish. This is not a pleasant disease to get but luckily the tetanus immunization works very well.

Overall gardening is a very healthy avocation, and the pluses outweigh the risks. Gardeners should be aware of hazards and always take appropriate precautions. If any health questions arise it’s most important to seek medical advice. Gear up and be careful out there!