Will Avian Pox Virus Mutate Into an Apple if I Plant Them Together?

COVID is an RNA virus—a fast-mutating type prone to species jumping—and bird pox isn’t.

A witch gave me an apple with a worm in it. Then I found a dead crow and thought I might plant it in a pot with the apple. Its feet were covered in tumors I’m told are avian pox. As it sits on my altar with candles and prayers, I ask: Will the pox virus mutate into the apple if I plant them together? Will I get the pox if I leave the crow in my freezer? What does it mean? —Lilith Lives Here

I bet you’re a lot of fun on long car rides, Lilith. Still, I understand your concern: The large, wartlike lesions on the legs, feet, and faces of birds afflicted with avian pox are what scientists call “gnarly” and would make anyone nervous. But don’t get your chakras in a twist: On the list of virus families you should be worrying about, the genus Avipoxvirus (comprising fowlpox, pigeonpox, turkeypox and more!) doesn’t even crack the top 10.

For starters, it’s usually not life threatening, even for the birds. Admittedly, the cosmetic effects are pretty brutal while they last, and I can certainly imagine a teenage bird looking at its lesion-studded face in the mirror and thinking, “My life is over.” But as long as the lesions don’t interfere with the bird’s feeding (or breathing), they usually go away on their own after a few weeks, with no lasting harm save some minor scarring.

As to your most pressing question, there are many good reasons not to make a habit of festooning your home, larder or body with the carcasses of diseased wildlife, but the fear of getting bird pox shouldn’t be one of them. Avipoxviruses aren’t transmissible to humans.

“Sure,” I hear you saying, “and bat SARS wasn’t transmissible to humans either, until it was. What if bird pox jumps species?”

Well, anything is possible. But COVID is an RNA virus—a fast-mutating type prone to species jumping—and bird pox isn’t. In many cases, it hasn’t even managed to jump species between different kinds of birds, which is why quailpox, sparrowpox, juncopox, penguinpox, and flamingopox (I swear I’m not making these up) are all separate viruses.

It could still happen, of course, but it’s no more likely than someone catching distemper from their dog, or hoof-and-mouth disease from their cow, or the zoomies from their cat.

Finally, at the risk of belaboring the obvious, it’s even less likely that the pox’s DNA will combine with that of the crow, the worm and the apple to make some kind of flying, shit-eating Honeycrisp shoggoth. Plant at will.

Questions? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com.