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Lethal Rat Droppings / Rat Urine

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Netlore Archive: Email rumor claims a Hawaiian man died after inhaling dried rat droppings and/or inadvertently consuming rat urine.

Description: Viral alert / Forwarded email
Circulating since: Sept. 1999
Status: Fictionalized, overblown (see details below)

Example:
Email contributed by Alpha Lau, Sep. 16, 1999:

Subject: Be careful of Rats' droppings.

A stock clerk was sent to clean up a storeroom at their Maui location.

Then he got back, he was complaining that the storeroom was really filthy, and that he had noticed dried mouse or rat droppings in some areas.

A couple of days later, he started feeling like he was coming down with stomach flu, achy joints, headache, and he started throwing up. He went to bed and never really got up. Within two days he was so ill and weak. His blood sugar count was down to 66 and his face and eyeballs were yellow. He was rushed to the emergency at Pali Momi, where they said he was suffering from massive organ failure!

The doctor, in ER, transferred him to St. Francis Hospital and notifies all his relatives as he didn't had long to live. In ICU of St. Francis Hospital, a team of doctors were trying desperately to stabilize him. They said that even if by some miracle he pulled through, he would need a new liver, kidneys, pancreas and bladder. He died shortly before midnight.

None of us would have ever made the connection between his job and his death, but the doctors specifically asked if he had been in a warehouse or exposed to dried rat or mouse droppings at any time.

They said there is a virus (much like Hanta virus) that lives in dried rat and mouse droppings. Once dried, these droppings are like dust, and can easily be inhaled or ingested if a person is not careful to wash their hands and face thoroughly, or wear protective gear. An autopsy is being conducted to verify the doctors' suspicions and tissue samples have been sent to the CDC in Atlanta.

Please be extremely careful to always rinse off the tops of any canned sodas or foods, and wipe off pasta packaging, cereal boxes, etc. Almost everything you buy in a supermarket was stored in a warehouse at one time or another, and stores themselves often have rodents. I worked in grocery wholesaling long enough to know that even the cleanest store has mice or rats.

Whenever you buy any canned soft drink, please make sure that you wash the top with running water and soap, or if not available, drink with a straw. A family friend's friend died after drinking can of soda! Apparently, she did not clean the top before drinking from the can. The top was encrusted with dried rat's urine, which is toxic and obviously lethal!!!! canned drinks and other foodstuffs are stored in warehouses and containers that are usually infested with rodents and then get transported to the retail outlets without being properly cleaned.

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


Analysis by Carla Homan: In case anyone was wondering why rats never took off as popular domestic pets, consider briefly their association with death and disease. With a list of horrors such as the bubonic plague, hantavirus and leptospirosis credited to them, it's no wonder people will so easily accept the notion that rats in and of themselves are lethal.

The fact is, the urine of a healthy rat is quite safe to consume... though I would recommend moderating your daily intake. What a relief, eh? This email is a variant of an earlier warning (see "It's the Lethal Thing" for a previous feature explaining away your rat urine fears), with a dead stock clerk inserted for additional hysteria value.

Still, the story of the store clerk cleaning the stockroom and contracting a hantavirus is not preposterous. In fact, a scenario on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website sounds similar, involving someone cleaning out a seldom used, rodent infested area, and contracting the virus after breathing in dust particles from the dried rat droppings. The excretions of diseased rats can indeed pose a health threat to humans (see resources below for cautionary information).

Regarding the specific claims in the email, an inquiry to the Hawaii Department of Health yielded the following response from Dr. Philip Bruno, Chief of the DOH Communicable Disease Division:

"The State of Hawaii Department of Health investigated this question last year, and has shared its findings with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The email is not true. There have been no known hantavirus cases in Hawaii. The email may be a hoax, or a misinterpretation of some other event."

In case you're still worried, the CDC has several resources on preventing the bubonic plague, the hantavirus and other rat-borne illnesses. They do not mention soda cans. Instead, they talk about controlling the local rat population, good sanitation, care when cleaning areas previously inhabited by rats, spraying for fleas, and other useful, relevant ways to protect yourself. Now, far be it from me to tell you NOT to wash your cans before you drink from them. But isn't that a no-brainer anyway? Haven't we all been taught not to put dirty things into our mouths?

What would your mother say?


Carla Homan is a writer and researcher based in Washington, D.C.


More info on rat-borne diseases:

Hantavirus
Centers for Disease Control

Leptospirosis
Centers for Disease Control

Plague
Centers for Disease Control

Typhus
Centers for Disease Control


Last updated 08/05/10


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