The Covid-19 crisis has proven how much we rely on alcohol-based hand sanitisers.

A solvent vapour rises from hands as the sanitiser dries. Sniff your hands next time you use an alcohol sanitiser. You will be sniffing solvent! For many decades, we’ve known that alcohol vapour is breathed in and passes through the lungs to the blood. For generations, it has been acceptable to ignore the solvent alcohol vapour. Until now.

Does the solvent alcohol vapour have a side-effect?

Yes. To demonstrate that, consider how the Covid-19 virus attacks people? The main way is through specialist cells deep within the lungs, cells which are normally defended by a thin layer of mucus. That mucus is broken down by the solvent alcohol vapour, a fact proven and published way back in 1952.

Is alcohol vapour, a solvent that disrupts protective mucus, something we want hospital patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 to be breathing in? Absolutely not.

The very cells the virus attacks deep in the lungs are the ones which make the protective mucus known as pulmonary surfactant. Every cell which is taken over by the coronavirus is one less cell making protective mucus. Every time that happens, the virus has easier access to other nearby cells which have weakened mucus defences.

The patient dies of Covid-19 when enough of those specialist cells are taken over by coronavirus.

All this is happening WITHIN the lungs of an infected patient.

Alcohol sanitisers have value in killing the virus on the hands. However, people do not die because of what the virus is doing on their hands. They die from what the virus is doing in their lungs. The solvent alcohol vapour is only relevant in their lungs. This coronavirus takes advantage of a technical side-effect which is why we have to remove alcohol vapour when we know the virus may be present.

Alcohol consumed in drinks is still alcohol.

Alcohol drinkers who drive know that alcohol passes out in their breath. Police with breathalysers certainly know it. As that alcohol leaves the blood it passes through the same mucus layer discussed above. Medical evidence shows the consumed ethanol disrupts the pulmonary surfactant mucus.

Prior to Covid-19 that weakness in the mucus defences could be largely ignored. Now that we have a virus which takes advantage of that weakness we need to consider alcohol consumption as a factor in the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

New employer burden.

Prior to this pandemic, employers of healthcare workers could reasonably ignore the alcohol being breathed in from hand sanitisers or breathed out following an alcoholic drink. That option to ignore evaporated in 2020. Employers have a duty of care for their employees and must take every opportunity to prevent occupational disease. Anything which weakens the integrity of the pulmonary surfactant mucus in healthcare workers makes them more prone to infection by SARS-CoV-2. If that infection happens at work it falls under the remit of the employer. If the employee dies from Covid-19 after having been infected at work that becomes an occupational death. A serious burden indeed.

History shows how hard it is to prevent people consuming alcohol away from their workplace, although that does not relieve employers of the responsibility to bring this new hazard to the attention of staff who are in danger of becoming infected by this virus at work.

However there is nothing to stop employers substituting alcohol hand sanitisers with effective products which do not liberate solvent vapours. Such products have been used around the world for many years. NewGenne’s Foam Hand Rub is in global use and we are happy to direct people to others. These non-alcohol hand sanitisers are more effective than alcohol against other infections like Norovirus, so long before Covid-19 there was a valid reason to change. 2020 and Covid-19 simply removed any hint of an excuse for employers who continue to advocate the use of alcohol hand sanitisers.

That is a new consideration for employers if they are asking staff to work in an environment where this coronavirus is present or even suspected to be present. The staff will be provided with personal protective equipment intended to stop the passage of coronavirus particles, yet it is unlikely to be capable of stopping solvent alcohol molecules being breathed in. Only the employer can stop that. They decide whether they want their employees to be at increased risk of occupational death.

Is alcohol vapour deep in the lungs favouring Covid-19?

As they say in the tougher exams; please discuss.

It’s what we do at NewGenne every day. We would love to hear what you think. Many lives depend on the outcome.