Hoaxes & Rumors

Old Rumor: Killer Rat Urine on Soda Cans

Old Rumor: Killer Rat Urine on Soda Cans

A popular rumor which circulated online for years states that a woman died due to Leptospirosis, which was contracted from drinking out of a soda can covered in rat urine.

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While the scenario is technically possible, there is no evidence it ever happened.

Let’s take a look at the story being passed around on social networks:

On Sunday a family went to picnic with a few drinks in tin cans. Monday, two family members were admitted to the hospital and placed in Intensive Care Unit. He died on Wednesday. Autopsy results concluded it was Leptospirosis. The virus was stuck to the tin cans and consumed, without the use of glasses / cups. Test results showed that the tin was contaminated because mice urinated on them, and then it dried. The urine contained Leptospira. I Highly recommend to rinse the parts evenly on all soda cans before drinking it. Cans are usually stored in the warehouse and delivered direct to retail stores without cleaning. A study shows that the top of all beverage cans are more contaminated than public toilets (full of germs and bacteria.)So, clean it with water before drinking in order to prevent this from occurring.
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The above story takes a few true elements and blends them with a fabricated story that has no sources and is impossible to verify. The false story is then used as a warning or to make a statement.

Consider:

  • Rat urine itself isn’t toxic. Urine from diseased rats potentially could be.
  • Leptospira must stay moist to survive, so it’s highly improbable that a dry soda can would contain a live specimen.
  • No names or sources are cited in the account above.
  • No news stories matching the above account have been found.
  • The same story has been circulating and evolving for at least 10 years.

Variation #2

A second variation of the rumor has also circulating heavily via email. This version includes a few additional details, such as “Texas” but still lacks enough information to verify the narrative. It also cites a study by the vague “NYCU” which Yahoo! noted in 2010 stands for several organizations – none of which are related to scientific research: New York City Underground, News You Can Use (from the U.S. News & World Report) and North Yorkshire Credit Union in the UK.

VERY IMPORTANT PLEASE READ

This incident happened in Texas.
A woman went boating one Sunday, taking with her some cans of cola which she put into the refrigerator of the boat. On Monday she was taken to the hospital and placed in Intensive Care Unit. She died on Wednesday. The autopsy concluded she died of Leptospirosis. This was traced to the can of cola she drank from, not using a glass. Tests showed that the can was infected by dried rat urine and the disease Leptospirosis.

Rat urine contains toxic and deathly substances. It is highly recommended to thoroughly was the upper part of soda cans before drinking out of them. The cans are typically stocked in warehouses and transported straight to the shops without being cleaned.

A study at NYCU showed that the tops of soda cans are more contaminated that public toilets (i.e.) Full of germs and bacteria. So wash them with water before putting them to the mouth to avoid any kind of fatal accident.

Please forward this message to all the people you care about.

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Cans are Dirty

Even without the above warning, this author has always been diligent about rinsing off the tops of soda cans, due to a personal experience and not because of rat urine. During a stop at a local warehouse when I was young, I noticed a man walking across a palettes of soda cans, and immediately thought of what could be on the bottom of his shoes. This one experience made me realize that you just never know where those cans have been.

The Leptospirosis Information Center addressed the rumor years ago, summarizing the rumor as follows:

While there is a theoretical risk of human infection from residual rat urine on cans or bottles, the statistical risk is extremely small. Leptospira require constant immersion in water to survive, and so drying of the surface for any length of time will permanently kill the bacteria. Given that drinking containers are non-porous, surface moisture dries very quickly and cannot possibly contaminate the contents.

Drinking from a can or bottle that has been exposed to rat urine presents a risk in theory only. There are no reported cases in the literature of human infection being unequivocally traced to cans or bottles and no medical studies have been performed into leptospira on drinks containers, or into the relative bacterial levels of drinks containers and public toilets.

The emails usually report a study by ‘NYCU’. There is no such University (it is an acronym for News You Can Use) and is in no way connected to New York University.

Bottom Line

It’s probably a good idea to clean the tops of soda cans before putting them to your mouth, but concerns of getting Leptospirosis based on the tale above are unfounded.

Although the rumor has circulated since at least 2002, we still see it occasionally reemerge on social media as recently as 2016.

Updated February 25, 2016
Originally published January, 2013

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  • TheSaintOfPain

    This story has been around a lot longer than the internet. My 59 year old mother has told me this story was told since before she was a kid, and about glass bottles, not cans of any type. I also remember hearing that exact same story as retold above starting in the late 80s from schoolmates, but the disease was never specifically identified, and the first version I heard as a kid allegedly came from New York City.

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