Editor’s Note: With the rapid rise of information (and misinformation) online about the coronavirus, we’ve seen some chatter here and there, including some rather bizarre memes, about whiskey/spirits and the like as a possible solution as some type of cure all. While we never think there’s a bad time to enjoy whiskey, common sense should also prevail. We thus thought it would be smart to try and quickly get to the heart of this matter – hence this article. We hope you find it useful.
It can’t be argued: whiskey is a comfort. Whiskey is a worthy companion after a day’s work well done, and points to a pleasant path to reflect on days to come. What it’s not is a solution to the threats of the coronavirus that’s now plaguing the globe. To see a hard lesson on this subject, see this article about the tragically mistaken beliefs about alcohol protecting from infection.
To give you the straight skinny on whether booze and viruses are a mix or a mismatch, we spoke about the intersection of coronavirus and whiskey/spirits to Dr. Brian Labus, a professor of public health at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Dr. Labus is an infectious disease epidemiologist, a Registered Environmental Health Specialist, and an expert in outbreak investigation.
The Whiskey Wash (TWW): Can drinking whiskey, or spirits in general, protect people from or help treat the coronavirus?
Dr. Brian Labus: Alcohol can kill the virus on surfaces, but it can’t do the same thing inside your body. Hand sanitizers have to be at least 60% alcohol to be effective. Trying to get your BAC (blood alcohol content) up to 60 would kill you long before you were able to kill the virus.
An illustration reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. (image via CDC)
TWW: Can using alcohol (here, again, ethanol) as a hand/body or surface sanitizer protect against getting the virus?
Dr. Labus: The best protection is washing your hands, but if you don’t have access to soap and water, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are a good alternative. Hand sanitizers, again, should contain at least 60% alcohol. If you are using alcohol to clean a surface, it needs to contain at least 70% alcohol. In this case, the cheaper the better. If you are going to spend good money on a craft, 140-proof whiskey, you shouldn’t be using it to clean a counter.
TWW: Could drinking negatively affect the immune system so that a person is more susceptible to contracting the virus?
Dr Labus: It depends on how much you are drinking. Having an occasional drink after work isn’t going to increase your risk of infection, and some studies have found that moderate alcohol consumption can boost immune function. On the other hand, binge drinking or alcohol dependence can weaken your immune system, which will put you at higher risk of infection and higher risk of hospitalization or death if you are infected.
TWW: What are the most significant precautions people should take in regards to virus protection?
Dr Labus: It may seem overly simple, but the best way to protect yourself is to limit contact with others and regularly wash your hands. So if you don’t want to drink alone, go to the bathroom and wash your hands after you greet all your friends at the bar.
Something important to note from the World Health Organization (image via WHO)
TWW: What is the best website for the most accurate and frequently updated information on the virus?
Dr Labus: The biggest challenge even for experts responding to coronavirus is keeping up with constantly changing information. The CDC has guidance that is kept up to date and covers a wide range of topics. For issues related to what is happening in your community, look to your state or local health department.
TWW: What are your favorite whiskeys, and would you recommend an occasional drink to enhance relaxation and perhaps divert anxiety over thinking about viruses, pandemics and general societal madness?
Dr Labus: There’s never a bad time for a good whiskey. I usually order an Angel’s Envy if I see it on the shelf behind the bar. Maker’s Mark was what made me first fall in love with bourbon, and that still tends to be my go-to brand at home. I especially like Maker’s 46.
The professor speaks some good sense, both about virus protection and whiskey. We intend to follow all of his prescriptions. Wash your hands, and sip in peace.
Tom Bentley is a business writer and editor, an essayist, and a fiction writer. (He does not play banjo.) He’s had hundreds of freelance pieces published—ranging from first-person essays to travel pieces to more journalistic subjects—in newspapers, magazines, and online. His self-published book on finding and cultivating your writer’s voice,...