Far from being repellents, two of Thailand’s — and the world’s — most popular habits only invite the virus into your body and ask it to feel welcome
As the novel coronavirus is spreading and taking its toll on the world’s population, fake news is also spreading really fast, particularly about the potential of liquor to kill the virus.
To address this misbelief, the Youth Network of New Face Drinker Prevention in collaboration with the Thailand Youth Institute, the Centre of Alcohol Studies and the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, recently organised a forum titled “Liquor, Cigarettes And The Risk Of Covid-19”, where representatives from several parties were discussing the misunderstanding.
The idea that drinking liquor could kill the novel coronavirus was developed from one of the basic protective measures against Covid-19 — to wash hands frequently either with soap and water or with at least 70% rubbing alcohol.
“Some people say if they drink liquor containing 5% alcohol for 14 bottles, they will receive 70% alcohol, which can kill the coronavirus. In fact, drinking a lot of alcohol ruins neural stem cells and is toxic to the body, causing the liver to work harder. It doesn’t kill Covid-19 at all,” said the Office of Alcohol Control Committee director Dr Nipon Chinanowet.
Thailand isn’t the only country with rumours saying alcohol could fight against coronavirus. Earlier this month, Iran’s news agency Irna reported that at least 44 people were killed by alcohol poisoning. These people drank bootleg alcohol and got poisoned because they believed that alcohol could prevent them from contracting Covid-19.
A similar rumour was spread in the US earlier this month when USA Today posted that fake news circulated the internet in the form of a hospital letter claiming that research found the consumption of alcoholic beverages, especially vodka, could reduce the possibility of Covid-19. The report included an interview with a spokeswoman for the Missouri-based hospital system, who dismissed the rumour.
Drinkers must be happy to hear this kind of rumour. In Thailand in 2017, there were 15.89 million drinkers, which accounts for around 28% of the total population aged 15 and older, according to the website alcoholrhythm.com, operated by the Health Intervention and Technology Assessment Programme and Thai Health. Around 7 million Thais drink at least once a week. People aged 35-49 drank alcohol the most. And men drank more than 50g per day while women drank around 12-50g a day. Compared to other provinces, Chiang Rai had the highest number of drinkers, 45.3% of its population aged 15 old and older. Alcoholic beverages have been easy to find since there are 583,880 stores nationwide that sell alcoholic drinks legally.
Alcohol consumption raised concern, too, when the Public Health Ministry found 11 Thais infected with the novel coronavirus earlier this month. One of them developed a fever, headache and coughing after they’d met visitors from Hong Kong. Despite having symptoms, they went out for drinks with friends and shared glasses and cigarettes.
Assoc Prof Dr Ratsamon Kalayasiri from the Department of Psychiatry, Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Medicine, cited research that found alcohol increased the risk of infectious pulmonary diseases, including pneumonia, pulmonary tuberculosis and pneumonitis.
“People who drink alcohol regularly have increased infection risks. When alcohol gets into the body, it will destroy the immune system. White blood cells can’t work well and the body is made vulnerable to infectious diseases. Drinking with friends or in a nightclub raises the risk of Covid-19 infection. While drinking alcohol, most drinkers enjoy gathering and don’t pay attention to hygiene. Without awareness, they mix up or share glasses. The coronavirus can be transmittable through glasses that people share and then enter the respiratory system,” said Dr Ratsamon.
“During the outbreak, we should practise social distancing for 1-2m in case someone who is infected isn’t aware of it. Social distancing will reduce the spread of germs. If you can’t avoid going to crowded places, wear a mask, use your own utensils and wash your hands often, or use hand sanitiser,” Dr Ratsamon advised.
Dr Vasin Pipattanachat, deputy director of Tobacco Control Research (TCR), Faculty of Medicine at Ramathibodi Hospital, warned that smoking cigarettes and e-cigarettes also increases the risk of coronavirus infection, because cigarettes weaken the lungs. Just one cigarette can affect the respiratory system and lung health. Smoking for a long time will lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“Some people who go to parties share their cigarettes with others, which can potentially lead to the spread of the virus. In 2012, smoking shisha or hookah was one of the reasons responsible for the spread of Mers in the Middle East, because multiple smokers shared a waterpipe.
“To reduce the Covid-19 risks, shisha places in the Middle East have been shut down in many countries such as Iran, Kuwait and Qatar,” the deputy director of TCR said.
“The Feb 28 issue of the Chinese Medical Journal reported that the number of Covid-19’s severe cases and fatalities among smokers was 1-14 times higher than non-smokers.”
People who turn to e-cigarettes may think that the new kind of vaping devices may be safer and healthier. They are wrong.
“The National Academy Of Sciences Journal in the US reported an experiment where mice breathed e-cigarette vapour and they fell prey to lung cancer. E-cigarettes reduce the effectiveness of the immune system, making the body vulnerable to influenza A virus infection,” Dr Vasin said.
Quitting cigarettes is therefore a way to boost the body’s immune system.
“According to the British National Health Service, quitting smoking will increase chances of improving your health within 20 minutes. After people stop smoking, the heart rate will return to normal. Blood circulation will improve and blood pressure will begin to drop. Within 72 hours, healthy cells will replace damaged cells in the lungs, and they will have full capacity again,” said Dr Vasin.