Can gin help against the Coronavirus?
No, this is absolutely not going to be a humorous take on the subject. The situation is far too serious for that. Humour would be entirely misplaced. What we need is reliable, fact-based information. Currently, there are many unanswered questions about the spread of Covid-19. Due to the speed and dynamism of the developments, scientifically sound answers can be hard to come by. Yet some people still use social media or messengers to spread misleading advice, tips, and warnings that often turn out to be false and sometimes even dangerous.
One such statement is that the consumption of alcoholic beverages offers protection against Corona disease and kills viruses. Many refer to an alleged notice from the Robert Koch Institute from March 19, 2020, which advocates excessive alcohol consumption.
Though the notice was obviously faked deliberately to spread misinformation, the news spread like wildfire via social networks and WhatsApp. Others quoted dubious studies and experts recommending similar practices and shared these amongst their family and friends. To top it all off, Jens Spahn’s statement at a press conference in March 2020 1 that the virus is “sensitive to alcohol” was misconstrued by many as a reason to host “corona parties.”
This is not a purely Germany phenomenon; urban myths of antiviral effects of alcohol consumption spread around the globe so quickly that even the World Health Organisation (WHO) felt compelled to publish the following notice:
We regularly receive messages asking whether or not the consumption of alcohol could help fight the spread of the virus. We have therefore decided to summarise some information and refer to institutions that can provide authoritative information about the transmission of and protection against Corona.
Alcohol and Corona – Is there anything to it?
In order to understand the connection between alcohol and virus control, let’s first take a look at the various uses of the term alcohol in the context of the Corona pandemic.
Alcohol is the basis for disinfectant and, as such, it is mentioned relatively often as a protective measure in addition to face masks, protective clothing, and gloves. However, the term alcohol also continues to be used in reference to drinks such as beer, wine, or spirits.
Alcohol is used to kill viruses in the form of disinfectants. There are many different types of disinfectants (e.g. surface/hand disinfectant) and their private use in the household is recommended only in certain situations as not every disinfectant is effective against every pathogen. Some products, for example, effectively combat bacteria but are not effective against certain types of viruses. The German Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung (BZgA) lists various functions and properties of disinfectants and provides information on hygiene and behavioural rules relating to the coronavirus. 2
The statement that Covid-19 is “sensitive to alcohol” refers to the use of the term to describe an industrial disinfectant. The German Bundesinsitut für Risikobewertung (BfR) discusses the question of transmission of the coronavirus via food and objects in a paper dated 06 April 2020 approximately as follows:
As enveloped viruses whose genetic material is coated with a layer of fat (lipid layer), coronaviruses react sensitively to fat-dissolving substances such as alcohols and surfactants, which are contained as fat-dissolvers in soaps […]. Although no specific data is yet available for SARS-CoV-2, it is highly probable that these substances damage the virus surface and inactivate the virus. 3
The RKI also quotes this information. 4Both cases refer to the general properties of coronaviruses. These make it advisable to use disinfectants to target them.
In contrast to the external use of disinfectants on objects, surfaces, or hands, as recommended by the institutions above, the urban legends centre around the “internal use” of spirits in the mouth, throat, or pharynx. This is not recommendable, at least not in terms of fighting viruses.
Nevertheless, there is a connection between spirits and the fight against Corona. Distilleries large and small are relinquishing the raw alcohol normally used to make spirits such as gin and giving it away for the production of disinfectants. As the framework conditions for production have been legally relaxed and simpler formulations for disinfectants have been approved, some distilleries have begun using leftover alcohol, old spirits, or wines and redistilling them to increase the alcohol content. 5 Additionally, spirits (so-called ethanol-water mixtures) can also be used to disinfect surfaces and hands as of 02.04.2020 by order of the German Bundestelle für Chemikalien (BfC). 6 However, these must have at least 70% vol., which rules out the use of a gin, as it normally contains no more than 50% vol. Even a Navy Strength Gin with 57% vol. does not meet the criteria.
So the answer to our question is simple:
The consumption of alcohol does not help fight the coronavirus or its spread. Spirits can only be effective against coronaviruses when used as external disinfectant if they contain at least 70% vol.
Nevertheless, personal well-being and a little normality are more important than ever in times of crisis, and this is where Siggi might be able to help afterall. Low-risk alcohol consumption for women is 12g of pure alcohol a day, for men it is 24g of pure alcohol a day. The formula for calculating alcohol content in grams is given by the BZgA as follows:
Amount in ml x (vol.-% / 100) x 0.8 (weight of alcohol) = gram of pure alcohol 7
We’ ve done the math and can highly recommend at least one thing: A Siggi a Day…
1 Gin & Tonic with 50 ml Siegfried Gin: 50 ml x 0,41 x 0,8 = 16,4g pure alcohol
1 Gin & Tonic with 30 ml Siegfried Gin: 30 ml x 0,41 x 0,8 = 9,8g pure alcohol
CHEERS and stay healthy!
(Photo by Tim Mossholder)