Can sauna help against the Coronavirus?

Finland is sauna and sauna is Finland. It is the only Finnish word that has been incorporated into other languages (it was not, of course, going to be the longest word in the world – lentokonesuihku-turbiinimoottoriapumekaanikkoal-iupseerioppilas -, which is also Finnish).

The positive effects of the Finnish sauna (the 90-something degree Celsius sauna, not lower temperature saunas or Turkish baths) are well known: they help strengthen the immune system.

But: can it help against Coronavirus?

Sauna and Finland

The health benefits of having regular saunas are well known. They are: relaxation and elimination of toxins from the body through sweating. Regular use also strengthens the immune system. It is also a kind of “controlled natural fever“, since fever is a mechanism for the body to become more hostile to harmful viruses and bacteria.

There are three types of saunas (traditional wood-fired, smoke and electric), but the end-effect of all of them is the same, and in the end choosing between one type and another has more to do with convenience than anything else.

branches in a sauna
Vasta (or Vihta) for whipping in the sauna. Fuente (CC: by-sa)

Many Finns have a sauna at home, in a room within the bathroom, but many also go to public saunas all over the country.

I do take my sauna/two saunas a week and I wouldn’t miss them.

Does the sauna work against Coronavirus?

Let’s just get this out of the way: prevention comes always first. Taking regular saunas will help you build up the immune system, but against Coronavirus it is also recommended to limit contact with people as much as you can and to wash your hands often.

That’s where the 20-seconds-rule for washing the hand comes in, which is how long it takes to sing twice “Happy Birthday” in your head. As I find it unsophisticated, I recommend washing the hands it with the chorus of “Never Gonna Give You Up” by Rick Astley. Even out loud, what the hell.

But let’s get down to business: the new Coronavirus seems to be sensitive to high temperatures and humidity, and the sauna has plenty of that.

The Coronavirus is transmitted by saliva droplets when people cough and sneeze – and even when people talk. Not only by being next to someone but if those droplets fall on a surface, the virus can live there for several days. If you touch these surfaces and then touch your face (nose, mouth, eyes…) with your hands there is a possibility of contagion.

One of the health recommendations of the sauna has always been to never go when one is already suffering from an illness, and I have to agree with that recommendation. In other words: a sauna will not cure someone who already has the Coronavirus. The air that reaches the lungs – where the COVID-19 resides – is already colder and will not help killing the virus. Michael Osterholm, expert in contagious diseases and epidemiology, tells us more in this interview with the great Joe Rogan. He talks about sauna and Corona in around the 21st minute of the interview.

Public sauna in Helsinki
A public sauna in Helsinki. Source (CC: by-sa)

However, sauna is always beneficial as it helps eliminate toxins and strengthens the body by creating a controlled fever. But, again, don’t go if you think you might be infected, just to be safe.

And you, does it help you to have saunas during the year to improve health?