Contaminated cans and conniving cats?

Whether it’s about dying from simultaneously drinking soda and eating Pop Rocks to finding razor blades in Halloween candy, urban legends continue to thrive. One Web site,, has a plethora of myth descriptions, origins and explanations of their truth and falsity. Here are a number of myths from the site that made us say, “Hmmpf?”

The poisonous excrements of rats can be found on the mouths of soda cans, which can cause consumers to become fatally ill. False.

It turns out that although diseased rats and animals can cause one to catch diseases such as leptospirosis and hantavirus, which are relatively rare, excrement of healthy rats causes no harm.

Also, rat droppings are unlikely to show up on cans. The rodents tend to dwell in places where they can get food, such as the food-mixing areas of factories, not the areas where the finished products lie. Also, canned sodas tend to leave the factory soon after they’ve been packaged, so there generally is not enough down time for the cans to be contaminated.

The Web site suggests that one should clean the mouth of the cans regardless because of possible contamination from factory workers.

This myth was spread first in 1998 through a chain e-mail, which vaguely describes victims of the poisonous animal feces. None of the death claims could be verified.

The artificial sweetener aspartame causes cancer, brain tumors, multiple sclerosis, Gulf War syndrome and diabetes, to name a few. False.

The FDA has not found a consistent group of symptoms linking aspartame to these health conditions. However, pregnant women with hyperphenylaline or those with the genetic disease PKU, or phenylketonuria, should avoid aspartame because of their difficulty in metabolizing phenylaline, an amino acid component of aspartame. Because of this, the FDA requires warning labels to be posted on all products containing phenylaline.

Everyone should drink 8-10 glasses of water everyday. False.

This piece of misinformation contributed to the theory that 75 percent of all Americans are dehydrated. The origins of this medical advice are unknown. The actual requisite daily water intake varies from person to person. A better rule of thumb would be to drink when you are thirsty and only enough to satisfy your thirst.

Cats will smother newborn babies out of jealousy or accidentally because of the milk on the babies’ breaths. False.

The specific origins of this myth are unknown. It is speculated the association of cats with witchcraft and evil may have contributed to this old wives’ tale. The story may have also developed as a way of explaining Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)before it was given validity by medical science. As for a cat smothering a baby in an attempt to get milk, most cats prefer water and must be taught to like milk after they have been weaned.

Disturbing birds’ nests or touching baby birds which have fallen from the nest will result in the mother’s abandonment because of the human scent. False.

Most birds have a limited sense of smell and can’t detect human scent. This myth was basically created in order to keep people from tampering with birds’ nests or abandoned baby birds.

A frog placed in a pot of water brought to a gradual boil will not try to escape. False.

This tale seems to be logical because frogs are cold-blooded creatures, and their bodies take on the temperature of their surroundings. However, research has proven the opposite to be true. Once the water in the pot has reached the point when the water is too hot for the frog, the frog will jump out.