For several years now, an alarmist rumor has been circulating that it would be dangerous to drink directly from the can because it is likely to be covered with rat pee, vector of a potentially fatal disease, leptospirosis. We disentangle the true from the false with Dr. Gérald Kierzek.
You may have already been stopped in your tracks by someone as you were about to drink your soda or beer straight from the can. “You know, cans are stored in warehouses where rats live. They are contaminated with their urine which can transmit a deadly disease, so avoid putting your lips on them!”. A benevolent message you said to yourself… but which probably scared a lot of people for nothing.
An often mild disease in humans
Like many received ideas, we do not really know how this one was born. Still, in the 2000s, people insinuated that the cans were contaminated with rat urine and that putting their lips on a can exposed a risk of leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease whose main reservoirs are rodents, in particular rats. They shed the bacteria in their urine.
So yes, it is possible that some cans are covered in rat pee, but be aware that if your lips come into contact with the rodent’s urine, you are unlikely to catch leptospirosis. And even if you are contaminated by the bacteria after drinking your can, you have little risk of dying because the disease is often mild in humans. Serious forms concern 5 to 20% of cases. Other info that should reassure you: leptospirosis is a disease that circulates mainly in tropical regions. “In metropolitan Europe, it affects approximately 600 people each year, i.e. an annual incidence of 0.4 to 1/100,000 inhabitants.indicates the Institut Pasteur on its website.
The main mode of contamination is not the one we think
Contaminations which certainly do not occur during contact of the mouth with a can since most often the contamination is done through lesions or mucous membranes (the eye) during a swim.
“Leptospirosis is primarily an occupational disease, known as “sewer workers’ disease”.s”” explains Dr. Gérald KIERZEK, emergency doctor and medical director of TipsForWomens. “Vvets, breeders, slaughterhouse staff and sewer workers are directly exposed to rats and water contaminated by their urine. It remains exceptional among individuals“.
In the event of symptoms (fever, muscle aches, chills, tachycardia, etc.) and in the event of contact with potentially contaminated water, diagnosis by blood test and early treatment with antibiotics are indicated.
But you will understand, you have more risk of catching leptospirosis during a professional or possibly aquatic activity than by drinking your soda!