3 February, 2020

Traditional Chinese medicine tackling the new coronavirus in China

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With 362 deaths and over 17,387 cases of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) spreading out from Wuhan, China, health authorities are scrambling for a cure. China’s National Health Commission has advised hospitals to use a range of treatments – including traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to tackle the new coronavirus.

TCM, combined with Western medicine, can play an active role in treating patients with pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus, a leading expert stated.

The National Health Commission listed Chinese herbal prescriptions for use on patients depending on which of the four Chinese medicine categories their conditions fell into – “damp, hot, toxic, bruised”.

“TCM is helpful in alleviating fever, containing the progression of the disease, lowering the dosage of corticosteroids and reducing complications,” said Zhang Boli, one of the 14 members of the national research team to prevent and control the outbreak.

Experts are screening Chinese patent medicine and active components of medicinal herbs for clinical use, said Zhang.

Particularly at the epicentre of the virus in Wuhan, many are turning to local remedies, guided in part by health leaders in Hubei province who have described “significant” benefits from mixing Chinese and Western medicine.

Last Thursday, doctors at the Hubei Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine released a pair of “formulas for pneumonia prevention.” The recommended formulas clear away heat, detoxify, dry dampness, moisten and enhance physical immunity,

The two recommended formulations include black atractylodes rhizome (used in Chinese medicine to dry dampness), along with extracts of honeysuckle (to clear inflammation), tangerine peel (to disperse phlegm), raw astragalus (to boost immune response) and several other herbs.

For authorities in Wuhan to counsel use of traditional Chinese medicine “makes sense,” so long as it is in conjunction with Western drugs, said Dr Cinatl, a virologist who co-authored the 2003 study. “In Western medicine, we have drugs that attack just a concrete target,” he said in an interview. “With traditional medicine, you can prevent virus absorption to cells, virus replication and so on.”

Authorities across China have nonetheless advocated the effectiveness of traditional methods against the Wuhan virus. Last week, the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Health posted to social media information about its use of Chinese medicine to treat several patients with the Wuhan virus who were later discharged.

Locals have since cleaned out Chinese herbs from pharmacies, and people are becoming increasingly desperate. The lockdown imposed on Wuhan had, however, made it difficult to restock sold-out Chinese medicine. However, local Chinese Medicine hospitals have since been given guidelines of herbal preparations that have shown to be effective in terms of stabilising patients and bringing down fever.

Treatment protocols, both Western and Chinese, will continue to be adjusted as the experts learn more about this disease.

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