IN SHORT: The claim that dried mouse urine found on tin cans could infect people with leptospira has resurfaced on Facebook. But the bacteria that causes the infectious disease can’t survive on dry surfaces.
A Facebook post circulating in March 2023 in South Africa warns readers to “rinse the parts evenly on all soda cans before drinking” from them.
According to the post “a study shows that the top of all beverage cans are more contaminated than public toilets” and that you can catch the infectious disease leptospirosis from them.
Leptospirosis is caused by Leptospira bacteria and can lead to potentially fatal infections of a number of organs, including the kidney, liver and brain.
It is passed from animals to humans. According to the World Health Organization “the disease is found mainly wherever humans come into contact with the urine of infected animals or a urine-polluted environment”.
The Facebook post claims two people were hospitalised and one died after drinking from tin cans infected with Leptospira.
The same claim has also been shared here, here and here. But is it accurate?
Dry, sealed can tops safe from leptospirosis
There is evidence that mice can carry infectious diseases like leptospirosis, and can spread it to humans who have direct contact with an infected mouse’s urine or other body fluids.
Leptospira survive in a moist environment, so would not typically survive on the sealed dry surface of a tin can.
It is unlikely that a person would catch the disease from drinking from a tin can, unless the can had been opened and the content included droplets of leptospires-contaminated urine or soil, according to this study. The study also concluded that the can itself would have to have holes or tears for the bacteria to survive inside, because of the acidity of most soft drinks.
Transmission might be possible if “the can’s top was crusted with rat urine” but this 2009 report published in the Indian Journal of Microbiology says the likelihood of this is statistically low.
The US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identifies “swimming, wading, kayaking, and rafting in contaminated lakes and rivers” as activities where the risk of exposure to leptospirosis is high.
There is little evidence to suggest that the public needs to be wary of drinking from tin cans, for fear of catching leptospirosis.
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