Back to Africa Check

Are you at risk of catching leptospirosis when drinking from a tin can? No, ignore false warning

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?

TinCan_False

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.

Republish our content for free

We believe that everyone needs the facts.

You can republish the text of this article free of charge, both online and in print. However, we ask that you pay attention to these simple guidelines. In a nutshell:

1. Do not include images, as in most cases we do not own the copyright.

2. Please do not edit the article.

3. Make sure you credit "Africa Check" in the byline and don't forget to mention that the article was originally published on africacheck.org.

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”, “altered”, “partly false” or “missing context”. This could have serious consequences. What do you do?

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Meta's third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Become a newsletter subscriber

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.