Stay Safe: Gardener Bitten by Insect Loses Legs & Fingertips

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Gardening can be one of the best parts of your life, but you have to be careful. Ms. Susan Buttery, of Highworth, Wiltshire, found out how dangerous gardens can be. After being stung by an insect she had to be hospitalized for eight months and lost both her legs from the knees down.

The problems for Ms. Buttery began when she felt a small bump from an insect forming on her neck. As her condition worsened, she had to be hospitalized and underwent 60 operations to try and help her recover from a nasty infection that ended up claiming her fingertips and legs.

Ms. Buttery told the BBC, “I could feel a lump in the back of my head and I didn’t really think anything of it…I thought, ‘oh, an insect’s just bitten me and it will go back down again.”

Mrs Buttery, Image from BBC News

Despite her ordeal, the 68-year-old is back in the garden, but she said that, “I am very aware now of different insects,” and that, “I’m also very aware that if I cut my finger or I get scratched on the roses that these areas get treated straight away.”

Gardening with Caution

Ms. Buttery was certainly the victim of terrible luck. Whenever we are outdoors it is important to keep safe and be aware of what is happening around us. Gardening is a great way to raise your own herbs and vegetables so that you have healthy food.

Like anything in life, gardening has to be approached with some amount of caution. Here are some of the risks that any gardener will have to contend with. Simple safety precautions are enough to mitigate these health risks so that you have a great time gardening.


Legionellosis’ rarer variant L. Pneumonophila is behind a form of pneumonia known as legionnaires disease. It occurs at low levels in most watercourses, but it can multiply rapidly when the water hits the 20°C mark. Clearly, if you have standing water on your property it is a good idea to figure out a long term solution, as it is also a perfect place for mosquitoes to reproduce.

The more common Legionella longbeachae is found in soil and compost, and can also lead to respiratory disease. Keeping a pair of gloves on is a must for gardeners, especially if you plan to get your hands in the dirt. Legionella longbeachae tends to be more of a problem for elderly people, but don’t take chances when you are in the garden!


Most people associate tetanus with rusty metal, but it is a bacteria that loves the dirt and compost too. Cuts and scrapes are open territory for a tetanus infection, which can then spread to the rest of the body. Again, keep your gloves handy, and keep any dirt or compost out of your bloodstream.


Bioaerosols are a wide range of airborne materials, like bacteria, spores, and fungi. Anytime the weather is warm there is a good chance that bioaerosols will be in higher concentrations, especially if you are turning over the compost, or tilling dry soil. For the most part, bioaerosols won’t cause serious harm, but anyone who has a weakened immune system, or a preexisting respiratory condition should be very careful. Wearing a mask is a good idea, as is wetting down the material so that there are fewer bioaerosols present.

Enjoy Your Garden

If you are new to gardening, don’t let this article scare you away from one of the best things a person can do for their health and wellbeing. Just make sure to take the appropriate precautions, and you will have a great time in the garden!


Nicholas Say was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where his family would go to the farmers' market every weekend. He loves to garden and spent many years in South America in vegetable gardens that he owned. Nicholas thinks that plants are wonderful creatures that can give us all so much. Contact him at

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