Pandemic Perspective #15 June 27, 2020
Will wine kill the coronavirus?
Well, alcohol kills the coronavirus, so maybe this is one more health benefit of wine. If only!
As the pandemic rolls on, medical workers are getting more innovative and desperate to find some way to stop it. To date there have been more than 100 studies designed to evaluate the possibility that rinsing the mouth with various chemicals, alone or in combination, might reduce the number of virus particles. These include hydrogen peroxide, povidone-iodine, chlorhexidine and cetylpyridinium chloride – and ethyl alcohol, a component of many of our favorite adult beverages.
If you have visited your dentist recently you probably were given a mouthwash that includes hydrogen peroxide, fortunately in a low concentration that doesn’t cause gagging. Healthcare workers such as dentists, their assistants and ear, nose and throat surgeons who spend long periods only inches away from virus particles that might be escaping from their patients’ mouths are properly concerned about becoming victims of the new coronavirus. If you visit one of these practitioners you’ll be given a slug of mouthwash before anything gets done.
Of the scores of studies done so far there is no clear consensus that any of the preparations will work. Some studies have only been done in vitro (the Latin term means in glass, not in a human or animal body) so that the results are very preliminary.
What researchers have found so far in studies with real people is that an oral rinse (mouthwash) does seem to have some beneficial effect but it’s not ready for prime time. It’s somewhat like the situation that I have described in earlier blogs regarding face masks: it depends. Wearing a mask does prevent some spread of virus particles from the wearer and does offer some protection to an exposed person but the devil is in the details. (Sorry for the cliché.) An infected person sheds some virus from the lungs, not just the mouth or throat. Sometimes the virus is present in the salivary glands so that using a mouthwash has only a temporary effect. We don’t know how often a rinse is necessary. Is a minute of swishing the stuff around enough or does the user have to gargle? Some of these chemicals cause allergic reactions and hydrogen peroxide can cause tissue damage in concentrations of more than 5 percent. (For reference, the hydrogen peroxide on the drugstore shelf has a concentration of 3 percent.)
But getting back to wine – it does have an alcohol content of between 5 and 20 percent. Better yet, the alcohol percentage in scotch ranges from 40 to 63 percent! Research studies – yes, they do pay scientists to study these things – show that mouthwashes containing 21 to 27 percent ethanol (as in wine and one-third as much as in Johnny Walker) combined with essential oils, reduced levels of influenza virus by a whopping 99.99 percent!
The next goal of the scientists: is red wine better than white wine? Salud! I hope that this helps you to get over the COVID-19 blues!