Legionella spp. in UK composts—a potential public health issue?



Over the past 5 years, a number of cases of legionellosis in Scotland have been associated with compost use; however, studies investigating sources of infection other than water systems remain limited. This study delivers the first comprehensive survey of composts commonly available in the UK for the presence of Legionella species. Twenty-two store-bought composts, one green-waste compost and one home-made compost were tested for Legionella by culture methods on BCYE-α medium, and the findings were confirmed by macrophage infectivity potentiator (mip) speciation. Twenty-two of the samples were retested after an enrichment period of 8 weeks. In total, 15 of 24 composts tested positive for Legionella species, a higher level of contamination than previously seen in Europe. Two isolates of Legionella pneumophila were identified, and Legionella longbeachae serogroup 1 was found to be one of the most commonly isolated species. L. longbeachae infection would not be detected by routine Legionella urinary antigen assay, so such testing should not be used as the sole diagnostic technique in atypical pneumonia cases, particularly where there is an association with compost use. The occurrence of Legionella in over half of the samples tested indicates that compost could pose a public health risk. The addition of general hygiene warnings to compost packages may be beneficial in protecting public health.