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I have very bad news my friends. I have been very sick and for some time now. At first, the doctors had no idea what they were seeing or why for that matter. It was a very strange upper respiratory ailment unrelated to anything they had never seen. A friend of mine recently sent me a link dealing with a pathogen found in soil i.e. a worm bin I had in my house for the past five years. I bring this to you with nothing but good intentions my friends. If anyone in your home has been getting sick lately this may be the reason. All I know is, I am for now on raising my worms outdoors exclusively.

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Comment by Don Dillon on March 20, 2011 at 1:26pm
Lawrence.  I am sorry this has affected you in this way.  Do you have any more information about the specifics of this pathogen?
Comment by Pat James on March 20, 2011 at 4:19pm

Just about a year ago now, I was at my father's house and ran the contents of his small compost bin through my wood chipper. Neither of us thought about it at the time. It was a few days before he started coughing. And over the next week he got pneumonia. 

On that Saturday he was admitted to the hospital. By Monday night they were talking about moving him to ICU and maybe having to put him on a ventilator. They were switching out his antibiotics but none seemed to help a bit and he declined steadily. The day he was admitted he signed the papers to let me review his chart. Late Monday they got back his blood cultures and they were negative.

I was discussing it with my sister that something was very strange and that triggered the memory that we had messed with  the compost. I did the work while he stood there. I looked up 'compost lung' and sure enough there it was, but that is a fungal infection. I went into the hospital like 2 in the morning to wait for the Doc and told him what I thought. He said fungi usually take a little longer to get that bad, but the compost angle gave him the answer. He went to computer and pulled it up.He said he had asked my Dad if he had worked with compost and my Dad said no. (When I confronted my Dad later he said he did not 'work with compost as I was the one working. He did not think standing there counted.

What almost killed my Dad was a severe immune/allergic reaction. (Not anaphylactic.) They started him on heavy doses of steroids and he got better quickly. He still suffered a little lung problems over the past year, but a pulmonary function test this past week showed his lungs were fine.

Comment by Philip Vanderhoofven on March 25, 2011 at 2:41pm

Worms process toxins out of the soil. I imagine there are all sorts of biological pathegoens being generated in a worm bin and have at times considered donning a gas mask before opening up the worm bins. If I had one I probably would have already. This is a very serious problem if it has caused sickness and near death. Does anybody know of any studies related to long term health problems of vermiculturists?

This needs further study and at the very least awareness of the potential problem. Check your worm bins for good airflow and ventilation and ensure to handle the compost upwind. If your going to send the compost though the wood chipper I would definantly put on a respirator and gloves as Steamy B has mentioned. Or maybe dont shread dry compost.  Do we really need to write up best practices and standard procedures for dealing with worms? Maybe but it could get too complecated to the point that vermicomposting would be prohibative. Image if keeping worms was regulated by the federal government? Safety gear - put on a Worm Suit. Okay that wouldnt be fun for anyone. We can wrap our heads around the problem and prevent health problems .

Comment by Pat James on March 25, 2011 at 3:58pm

A little bit of common sense goes a long ways. When I run my shredder, I mask up. because I always seem to have little nicks and cuts, I wear gloves when I am going dig around in my bins. I also try to bolster my immune system.

Plus I try to be aware of my health status and NOT let something go untreated or diagnosed for too long. My Dad was 82 at the time he got sick so he was a little vulnerable anyway.

Not to say this can't and won't happen to a younger person like Lawrence Berry.  I was at my prime (late 20's and in great shape) when I got sent to the Sinai desert with a peace-keeping force in the early 80's. I came back coughing and continued to cough for months. We called it desert crud. Something else to catch.

Any activity has its risks. Be aware and think it through. You just have to work on your health like anything else.

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