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Drinking alcohol won’t protect you against COVID-19, experts say

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Bethesda, MD — Although alcohol is a key ingredient in hand sanitizers that can help kill the coronavirus, alcoholic drinks don’t have the same effect and may actually hinder your immune system’s response to COVID-19, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is cautioning consumers.

To be effective against the coronavirus, hand sanitizers must contain at least 60% ethyl alcohol, NIAAA says in a May 12 press release. In contrast, a typical drink is only 0.01% to 0.03% alcohol – “a tiny fraction of the concentration needed to produce an antiseptic action.” A blood-alcohol concentration of 0.4% can be fatal.

“Alcohol misuse makes the body more susceptible to viral infections and can worsen the prognosis,” the institute adds. “Alcohol in the body at the time of exposure to a pathogen tends to impair the body’s immediate immune response to the pathogen, making it easier for an infection to develop.”

Longer term, excessive alcohol consumption impairs the immune system’s response in the lungs and has been linked to acute respiratory distress syndrome. “In fact,” NIAAA says, “individuals who misuse alcohol chronically are more likely to develop ARDS, more likely to need mechanical ventilation, have a prolonged stay in the intensive care unit and have a higher risk of mortality from ARDS. All of these effects of alcohol misuse could certainly complicate COVID-19 prevention, treatment and recovery.”