Staying at home during the Covid-19 pandemic and being overwhelmed by fear, we constantly look for new disinfectants to prevent coronavirus infection.

Thorough hand washing and disinfection of our hands and other utensils daily is essential.  Many people ask if alcohol has these advantages. They also ask why alcohol is so expensive.

Let’s start with the second question: why is alcohol so expensive? Alcohol is produced by distilling wine or other products (potatoes, cereals, sugar beet, sugar cane, etc.) It involves a complex production process that takes multiple quantities of raw material to produce one unit of alcohol.  For instance, to produce one litre of 96.3 -96.7% anhydrous alcohol, we need 7.438 litres of wine with an alcoholic strength of 13%.

In addition to these production costs (raw materials, plant, labour, capital depreciation, etc.), excise duty must also be paid.  This tax amounts to €9,57/litre + VAT = € 11,39.  In conclusion, for every litre of anhydrous ethyl alcohol (~96.5%) that we buy, we also pay an excise tax equal to 11.39 cents.  This is for edible alcohol as no excise duty is paid for “denatured” alcohol (alcohol to which other ingredients are added to make it inedible).

How effective is alcohol in fighting pathogens?

Alcohol is the main ingredient in hand sanitisers because it effectively neutralises many pathogens, including viruses and bacteria.

According to various market research, hand sanitisers with “alcohol” contain one of the following alcohols: ethyl alcohol (or edible alcohol) and isopropyl alcohol or isopropanol, which is toxic if consumed!

Alcohol-based disinfectants may or may not have the ability to neutralise some viruses and bacteria depending on their structure (content). A good example is the bacterium E. coli, which can cause food poisoning, and is effectively destroyed by disinfectants containing alcohol at a concentration of at least 60%.

Also, alcohol effectively kills enveloped viruses. The envelope is an outer covering of lipids and proteins in which the virus’s genetic material resides.

According to recent research, the Covid-19 coronavirus belongs to this category and can be effectively neutralised by alcohol-based hand sanitisers containing alcohol concentrations of at least 60%.

One might think that the higher the alcohol content of a disinfectant, the more effective it is. Surprisingly, this is not the case for several reasons:

  • protein degradation is faster when alcohol is mixed with a small amount of water.
  • Pure alcohol evaporates very quickly and does not have time to kill bacteria and viruses on the skin.
  • Also, pure alcohol dries out the skin and causes irritation. This is why hand sanitisers contain emollients that moisturise the skin.

You may have heard or read several tips on preparing various disinfectants at home. These may include Zivania, Vodka or even pure alcohol. The first two contain very low alcohol content (40 – 45%) and cannot effectively kill pathogens such as Covid-19 coronavirus, while pure alcohol has other disadvantages mentioned above.

Another problem is that homemade hand sanitisers may not contain sufficient emollients, nor do we know precisely the content of alcohol and other substances they contain to be effective and prevent skin irritation.

Our previous article (wine and health) elaborated on the benefits of wine, especially red wine, and its role in our health. We have noted that pathogens cannot survive in wine due to alcohol (alcohol) and acids. What is certain is that it does not contain enough alcohol to make it suitable for hand disinfection.

Finally, it is better to drink red wine in moderation and gargle with zivania at room temperature. I wish to reiterate that some people’s habit of drinking zivania from the fridge is wrong.  In addition to ruining all its aromas and flavours, doctors are in these times advising us that cold drinks are an enemy of our immune system and make us vulnerable to the virus.

Dr Andreas Emmanuel

27th March 2020

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