What’s Hiding in Your Leaf Pile?

Autumn is rapidly approaching, with the color changes in the leaves becoming more apparent every day. Soon those beautiful pastels will be falling to the ground, where they do not seem to hold as much beauty for us. For people with a multitude of trees on their property, many Saturday afternoons in the fall consist of leaf raking and hot chocolate. And there is not a kid around who is not tempted to run through, jump in or play with a pile of leaves sitting in the yard. But even this simple activity is not without its dangers. So use caution (and good hygiene) whenever piles of leaves are involved.

  1. First and foremost, any child playing near leaves must have supervision. Rakes used to gather the leaves generally have sharp edges and are dirty. In one case, a father was raking leaf piles together while his little ones were running around in the yard. He stepped inside to take a phone call, throwing his rake into the pile. His 4 year old son came running around the house and jumped into the pile of leaves, not seeing the rake. He sustained a significant eye injury. Always be cognizant of where the children are and likewise, where the rakes, shovels, and other yard equipment are located as well.
  2. Never, never, never drive a vehicle into a pile of leaves. Countless instances have occurred in multiple states where parents drove into the driveway and into a pile of leaves, only to find out that their children were hiding there.  What started out as a fun game for the kids ended in tragedy for everyone.
  3. All leaves, when bundled together, increase the risk of a fall. This is especially true if the leaves are wet. Watch your footing very carefully, particularly when leaves fall across sidewalks, etc. Take your shoes off before entering your house in case there are leaves stuck to the bottom of them. Wet leaves make any surface you walk on a slippery slope!
  4. In many urban and suburban areas, leaf piles are placed at curbside for the removal team to have easy access. The close proximity to traffic does not negate the natural instinct of a child to run and jump into the pile.. Educating and reinforcing this with the child is a must. Curbside leaf piles are off limits at all times!
  5. Wet leaves promote one of the best environments for the growth of bacteria. Leaf piles are wet, they are dark and with the afternoon fall sunshine, they are warm. What bacteria would not like that set up? Mold and assorted bacteria are the primary occupants of leaf piles, including E. coli, which can cause serious health issues. When working with leaves, remember:
  • Wear gloves to protect your hands, and a long sleeve shirt.
  • No shorts or flip flops. The lower extremities must be covered.
  • Cover all cuts, abrasions and open areas to avoid contamination.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly when finished.

6.       Lastly, there are critters to think about. Ticks may be hiding in piles, which threatens the health of both children and dogs. Mites and parasites could also be lurking in the leaves. And I haven’t even mentioned snakes yet!

Autumn is a beautiful time of year, particularly in our area where seasonal change creates an explosion of nature’s beauty. Don’t let an unwanted injury or illness cloud that picture.

Diane SimonDiane Simon, RN, CEN is the Trauma Coordinator/Registrar for ProMedica Defiance Regional Hospital.