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Health Related Hoaxes and Rumors

  • I have read stories on the Internet about people getting stuck by needles in phone booth coin returns, movie theater seats, gas pump handles, and other places. One story said that CDC reported similar incidents about improperly discarded needles and syringes. Are these stories true?
    January 30, 2004
    CDC has received inquiries about a variety of reports or warnings about used needles left by HIV-infected injection drug users in coin return slots of pay phones, the underside of gas pump handles, and on movie theater seats. These reports and warnings have been circulated on the Internet and by e-mail and fax. Some reports have falsely indicated that CDC "confirmed" the presence of HIV in the needles. CDC has not tested such needles nor has CDC confirmed the presence or absence of HIV in any sample related to these rumors. The majority of these reports and warnings appear to have no foundation in fact.

    CDC was informed of one incident in Virginia of a needle stick from a small-gauge needle (believed to be an insulin needle) in a coin return slot of a pay phone. The incident was investigated by the local police department. Several days later, after a report of this police action appeared in the local newspaper, a needle was found in a vending machine but did not cause a needle-stick injury.

    Discarded needles are sometimes found in the community outside of health care settings. These needles are believed to have been discarded by persons who use insulin or are injection drug users. Occasionally the "public" and certain groups of workers (e.g., sanitation workers or housekeeping staff) may sustain needle-stick injuries involving inappropriately discarded needles. Needle-stick injuries can transfer blood and blood-borne pathogens (e.g., hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV), but the risk of transmission from discarded needles is extremely low.

    CDC does not recommend testing discarded needles to assess the presence or absence of infectious agents in the needles. Management of exposed persons should be done on a case-by-case evaluation of (1) the risk of a blood-borne pathogen infection in the source and (2) the nature of the injury. Anyone who is injured from a needle stick in a community setting should contact their physician or go to an emergency room as soon as possible. The health care professional should then report the injury to the local or state health department. CDC is not aware of any cases where HIV has been transmitted by a needle-stick injury outside a health care setting.

  • False Notice about Contamination of Commercial Ice Machines
    January 23, 2004
    Several restaurant associations and individual restaurants have recently received a facsimile (fax) notice about microbial contamination of commercial ice machines. The fax is labeled “Urgent Fax Notice, United States Public Health Notice, (CDC) Center for Disease Control.” This is a false notice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not issued such an alert.

    All commercial ice-making machines are manufactured with a "boilerplate" statement affixed to the machine stating when and how the ice machine should be cleaned and sanitized. In addition, most companies that manufacture commercial ice- making machines provide toll-free telephone numbers for owners to obtain additional information about when and how to clean and sanitize the equipment. CDC recommends that users of commercial ice-making machines follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning and sanitizing the machines.

  • False Report Concerning Cola Soda Products
    Sep 14, 2002
    There are several variations of emails being circulated that warn consumers not to buy Coca-Cola (or Pepsi) due to potential tainting of the products. These e-mails are a hoax. There are no advisories, recalls, or safety alerts concerning this product. FDA is the federal agency that has responsibility for regulation of this product and for keeping the public apprised of concerns such as this. You may wish to visit the FDA recalls and safety alerts website at to obtain the latest information in this regard.

    The Coca Cola Company notes at its hoax and rumors website ( that it uses a number of processes to assure the safety and quality of the water and ingredients used to make products of The Coca-Cola Company. They also note that investigations to date, conducted by Federal and local officials, as well as The Coca-Cola Company, have concluded that these rumors have no merit.

    Other informative links regarding this rumor may be found at the Urban Legend web site at:

  • Consumer Alert: Buying antibiotics online
    Nov 1, 2001
    Consumers who are visiting Web sites and receiving e-mail claiming to sell Ciprofloxacin (Cipro) and other antibiotics should consult "Offers to Treat Biological Threats: What You Need to Know," produced by the Federal Trade Commission in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These fraudsters often follow the headlines, tailoring their offers to prey on consumers' fears and vulnerabilities. The Consumer Alert is available online at

  • Emails about Anthrax from CDC
    There are several emails being circulated with the false subject line: "Important information about anthrax from CDC." CDC has not conducted a mass email campaign to consumers, therefore, these emails do not originate from CDC.

  • False Report: Poisonous Perfume Samples in the Mail
    Some State Health Departments have recently received inquiries concerning e-mail messages that allege that women have died after inhaling a free perfume sample that was mailed to them. According to these e-mails, the perfume sample was poisonous. The e-mails also state that free samples received in the mail, e.g., lotions, perfumes, diapers, etc., should be thrown away.

    These e-mails are a hoax. They are a variation of another hoax often referred to as the Klingerman virus. The information in the e-mail notice is untrue. If you receive an e-mail message about poisonous perfume samples received in the mail please do not forward it to others.

    Although these e-mail messages are a hoax, if you are concerned about the contents of a package you receive in the mail, contact your local post office. It is a criminal offense to send potentially hazardous agents through the mail for the purpose of deliberately causing harm to human health. When such an incident occurs, the local emergency response system should be activated by dialing 911 in most communities; in communities without 911 systems, local law enforcement authorities should be notified. The local FBI field office and local and state public health authorities also should be notified.

  • False Report: Underarm Antiperspirants or Deodorants Cause Breast Cancer (02-04-2003)

  • False Report: Texas Child Dies of Heroin Overdose After Being Stuck by Used Needle Found in Play Area (03-28-2001)

  • False Report: HIV Can Be Transmitted by Contact with Unused Feminine (Sanitary) Pads (03-28-2001)

  • Tampons and Asbestos, Dioxin (07-23-1999)

  • False Report: HIV Can Be Spread Through the Air (12-06-2000)

  • False Email Report: Hantavirus Spread by Contact With Soda Cans or Grocery Packages (05-23-2001)

  • False Email Report: Klingerman Virus (05-23-2001)

  • False Internet Report: Bananas (05-23-2001)

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This page last reviewed October 15, 2004.

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