Can Trees Pass On Viruses to Humans?
We exist on an exceedingly complex biosphere – Earth. When life rose out of the primordial soup, the amino acid chains that went on to develop into DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) shared a common ancestry that went on to become every organic thing on the planet. Next time you feel as though you are close to going bananas, that’s okay because humans share 50% of their DNA with that fruit.
For those of you who suffer from hay fever whenever you drive past a mustard grass field in full bloom, this can be thought of as a particularly dastardly kind of familial sabotage. You share about 15% of your DNA with this bright yellow plant.
So, it will come as no surprise that our floral brethren can pass illness-causing microorganisms onto us. The easiest way the latest plague besetting the world – Covid-19 / Coronavirus – can be passed onto us is if an infected person touches a tree and then you come along and touch it in the same place. The virus germs can pass from the tree to you, and then enter your system when you touch your mucous membranes. Mucous membranes are the soft, damp skin tissue in your nostrils, mouth, and eyes.
Viruses can last for some time outside of their host’s body, so it’s always a good idea to wash your hands after touching unknown trees or going into a forest.
Maybe the Mushroom is Not Such a Fun Guy Fungi
The joke might say that the mushroom is the life and soul of the party because he’s such a fun-guy, but some plant pathogenic fungi actually produce toxic compounds that can infect people. The pathogen doesn’t infect people directly itself, but when humans come into contact with it via consummation of high levels in foodstuffs, they can experience acute pain, vomiting, convulsions, and even death.
Some fungi, for example, cause corn to rot. One called Fusarium produces mycotoxins such as zearalenone, fumonisin, and vomitoxins (the name speaks for itself). Depending on the level of contamination and which mycotoxin is consumed lethargy, vomiting, and death can occur in any mammal. Fortunately, it only affects grains – and grain products for human consumption is monitored to check for its presence.
Next on our list is aspergillus flavus. This mycotoxin is a common containment in peanuts. When the fungi produces aflatoxins, and they are consumed in low levels over longer periods, they can cause cancer. Roasting or salting peanuts eliminates this mycotoxin.
Can I Catch the Virus that Made My Plants Sick?
When you eat an apple covered in black spots or courgette that’s come off an infected vine, the question of whether you can catch the virus that made the plant sick might cross your mind.
The answer is “no” in most cases. This is because the nematodes, fungi, bacteria, and viruses that caused the disease in the plant don’t have the necessary biological passcode to cause the same disease in humans.
There’s a big but that comes next though. There are some plant pathogens that may be able to make the jump to infect humans as well as plants. These are called “opportunistic pathogens” – a name that strikes fear into every epidemiologist’s heart. And the bad news is that there is a segment of the population most at risk:
- Those with compromised or suppressed immune systems
- Those taking certain medications regularly
- Those suffering from some medical conditions
- Any immunosuppressed individual
Am I At Risk of Catching a Virus From a Plant?
If you tick any of the above categories, and if you eat or touch a plant, fruit, or vegetable with contaminating microorganisms, for example, pseudomonas aeruginosa, it can infect your lungs, blood, and urinary tract. If you have burns, wounds, or other sections of skin that have been simultaneously exposed and infected, your immune system might just be low enough to allow the proliferation of the bacteria to spread.
Where will you find pseudomonas aeruginosa, you will be wanting to know? Any green plant that has begun to rot or show signs of softening is offering a chance for this bacterium to make the jump from plant to human.
Does This Mean That I Have to Stop Buying Seconds Fruit and Veg?
If you make a point of buying local produce at your nearest farmers’ market or stall, then please don’t stop and also – good for you! Fruit sold locally have no air miles attached and are usually the ones that have been rejected by supermarkets because they don’t fit into that artificial perfection supermarket shoppers demand:
- Evenly coloured
- All the same homogenous shape
Also known as ugly fruit or veggies or second class fruit and vegetables, these rejects taste just as good as their more beautiful cousins, but only cost half the price. The affordability, zero carbon emissions, and frugality of ugly fruit and vegetables most definitely offset their appearance.
It’s important not to confuse disease with something like a superficial spot or leaf scar. When fruit and vegetables grow closely together, the leaves rubbing against the skin as the fruit grows can cause little blemishes to form. This will cause a supermarket to reject it for sale, but it’s still a delicious item to eat. The same goes for a miniscule flyspeck or soot blotch.
If you, or anyone in your family, suffer from an suppressed or compromised immune system, be sure to check every fresh food stuff that enters your kitchen. Try to avoid preparing any diseased produce for eating, cooking, and canning (bottling).
If a fruit or vegetable has had its skin broken, not only is there a higher chance of spoilage and increased risk of the growth of harmful microorganisms, but the pH balance of the produce could also be changed. When acidity occurs due to an altered pH, the bacteria that can flourish in these conditions can be potentially harmful to humans.
Don’t Become a Carnivore – Enjoy Eating the Fruit and Veggies Grown in Your Garden
Infections passing from plants to humans are very rare, so there’s no need to throw out the salad just yet! The pathogens that infect plants don’t make a point of infecting people – their evolution and biological imperative is not equipped to do that.
You’re not likely to catch an infection or a disease from working in the garden with diseased plant produce. However, it is a potential slight risk and it remains dependent on the type of infection your plants are carrying. Consideration should always be taken. As tempting as it is to utilise the produce from a diseased plant even though they may be safe to eat, it’s best rather to chuck them on the compost heap where they can do no harm.
Always avoid eating rotten or mouldy food stuffs: the bacteria and fungi that generate toxic compounds could be lurking inside.
The good news is that it’s not a virus.
To remove your tree quickly and safely contact Tress by Russ!