Can You Get Leptospirosis from Soft Drink Cans?

The Lowdown on Rat Urine

Soda Can
Soda Can. Gene-Claude Meyers / EyeEm, Getty Images

A viral message circulating since September 2002 claims a person in North Texas (or Belgium, Botswana or elsewhere, depending on version) came down with a deadly disease called leptospirosis after drinking Coke from an unwashed can be contaminated with dried rat urine.

Leptospirosis and Soda Can Hoax Analysis

If you compare the two earliest variants below, one of which began circulating in 2002 and the other three years later in 2005, you will find they are identical except for the following features:

1. The first claims the woman became sick in Belgium; the second in north Texas.

2. The first refers to the disease as "leptospirosis;" the second calls it "leptospirose."

3. The first claims a study conducted in Spain showed that the tops of soda cans are "more contaminated than public toilets;" the second says the study was done at "NYCU" (perhaps meaning NYU, or New York University).

Don't panic. Neither version is likely to be true. While rat urine certainly can and often does carry diseases that affect humans (if the rat itself is a carrier of the disease), rat urine is not inherently toxic or rife with "deathly substances" as claimed. Soda cans are typically stored and shipped in shrink wrap or cardboard cases, so, while they can get dirty on store shelves, they're not necessarily the first place one should expect to encounter dried rat urine contamination.

About Leptospirosis

There's no record in medical journal databases of any study conducted at NYU, NYCU or anywhere else comparing the cleanliness of soda cans and that of public toilets.

Though relatively rare, leptospirosis is a real and potentially life-threatening disease which can be transmitted via rat urine and feces (and those of other animals). However, all of the cases reported in Texas over the past several years affected the canine population only.

The text of this rumor is may have been inspired by another rumor circulating since 1999 warning of fatal diseases transmitted via rat urine and/or droppings on soda cans.

Sample Emails About Leptospirosis from Soft Drink Cans

Shared on Facebook on June 28, 2012:

On Sunday a family went to picnic with a few drinks in tin cans. On Monday, two family members were admitted to hospital and placed in the Intensive Care Unit. One died on Wednesday.

Autopsy results concluded it was leptospirosis. Test results showed that tin was infected mice that had dried urine containing Leptospira.

It's highly recommended 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.

Clean it with water before putting your mouth on it in order to avoid all accidental contamination. Please forward this message to all your loved ones.


Email contributed by Kim P. on April 8, 2005.

IMPORTANT PLEASE READ

This incident happened recently in North Texas. We need to be even more careful everywhere. A woman went boating one Sunday, taking with her some cans of coke which she put in the refrigerator of the boat. On Monday she was taken into the Intensive Care Unit and on Wednesday she died.

The autopsy revealed a certain leptospirose caused by the can of coke from which she drank without using a glass. A test showed that the can was infected by dried rat urine, hence the disease Leptospirosis.

Rat urine contains toxic and deadly substances. It is highly recommended to wash the upper part of soda cans thoroughly before drinking out of them as they have been 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 than public toilets, full of germs and bacteria. 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.

Sources and further reading:

Leptospirosis
Centers for Disease Control, January 13, 2012

Rats and Mice Spread Disease
About.com: Pest Control

Coke Can Diseases Hoax
KCBD-TV News (Lubbuck, TX), March 23, 2006