- Drinking alcohol can’t kill germs.
- Solutions with more than 60% alcohol can be effective against viruses when applied to your hands or on surfaces, but drinking high percentages of alcohol may lead to fatal alcohol poisoning.
- Drinking alcohol excessively can actually have a negative effect on the immune system and make you more susceptible to infection from viruses, bacteria, and other germs.
- Visit Insider’s Health Reference library for more advice.
This myth was further spread when an unsigned letter from Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City was circulating on Facebook, in which the hospital claimed that drinking alcohol was effective in killing the COVID-19 virus, particularly vodka. This letter was later proven to be a hoax.
Why drinking alcohol will not kill germs or viruses
Alcohol, at high enough concentrations, is able to destroy viruses by denaturing the proteins that make up the virus, which makes the viruses lose their structure, rendering them inactive and ineffective. According to the CDC, you need a concentration of at least 60% alcohol to cause this denaturation to kill germs, with 60% to 90% being the optimal levels. This is why you’ll see hand sanitizers such as Purell have a level of 70% ethyl alcohol.
Most alcoholic beverages’ alcohol content or alcohol by volume (ABV) of ethanol is below 60%, and therefore below concentrations necessary to kill most viruses and bacteria, according to Dr.Stephan Fihn, professor of General Internal Medicine and Health Services and head of General Internal Medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. A typical serving of hard liquor such as vodka, gin, whiskey, rum and tequila, averages in at about 40% ABV.
“When consumed, the amount of alcohol that enters the bloodstream is far lower. Blood alcohol levels of over 0.08% are considered consistent with intoxication, [which is about] one-thousandth of the concentration of alcohol in a sanitizer such as Purell,” says Fihn.
While there are certain types of alcohol that do have more than 60% ABV, they still won’t kill germs in your body or help you fight infections. Even if you are drinking alcohol with an even higher ABV, such as certain grain alcohols that can be up to 90% ABV, your blood alcohol level still won’t be high enough to destroy viruses, according to Fihn.
“[Blood alcohol levels] of 0.35% to 0.40% usually represents potentially fatal alcohol poisoning. Thus, in the bloodstream, ethanol will kill the person before it kills the virus,” says Fihn.
For the novel coronavirus in particular, doctors and researchers do not know of anything that we can consume â€” including any type of alcohol â€” that can reduce our risk of infection, and Fihn urges people to be weary of any remedies they read online that claim to be effective against COVID-19.
When it comes to using alcohol as a sanitizer, it’s best to avoid it and stick to using sanitizers that are made specifically for hands. “For alcohol to be effective [at killing germs], it needs to be applied for at least 30 seconds. Commercial hand sanitizers are formulated to be conveniently applied, such as foams and gels, that can be more easily rubbed on hands and do not evaporate too quickly,” says Fihn.
That being said, it’s preferable to wash your hands with soap and water over using hand sanitizer, but if you’re in a pinch, sanitizer will do. Always remember: The best way to kill germs and prevent infection, especially right now, is to practice good hand hygiene and social distancing.
“There are no studies yet showing that anything other than social distancing and hygiene are effective in curtailing contagion of the virus,” says Fihn.
How drinking alcohol can make you more prone to infection
Excessive alcohol consumption can actually make you more prone to infection by suppressing the immune system. According to Fihn, it appears that excessive alcohol consumption damages microflora in the gut and can damage the liver and spleen, which are important in supporting the immune system. A weakened immune system will make it harder for your body to ward off infections.
The CDC defines excessive drinking as eight or more drinks a week for a woman and 15 or more drinks in a week for a man. If your alcohol intake is around there, you are at risk for your immune system to be weakened and might want to consider cutting down, especially during this pandemic. However, moderate or light drinking is ok, according to Fihn, and likely will not have a negative effect on the immune system.
On top of affecting the immune system, alcohol consumption poses other health risks. According to the World Health Organisation, alcohol is linked to many conditions such as cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, cirrhosis, and alcohol dependence.
Related stories about sanitation and keeping clean:
- The best disinfectants for viruses and which ingredients to look for
- How do viruses spread and how to protect yourself against infection
- Does bleach kill germs? Yes, but you need to let it sit for 10 minutes
- Chlorine kills germs, but its most effective in your pool
- What temperature kills germs? How to use heat properly to get rid of bacteria and viruses
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.