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TCM can help control spread of coronavirus

Pharmacists pack and sell Chinese medicine at the Hu Qingyutang Chinese Medicine Museum in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. [Photo by Feng Chonglin/]
In the fight against the novel coronavirus epidemic, traditional Chinese medicine has been proving relatively effective. But while highlighting TCM's efficacy and advantages, we also have to stress the risk of improper use of TCM to control and prevent the spread of coronavirus.
For example, some people mistakenly anchor their hope on some herbs or Chinese patent drugs to prevent infection. Since most people know little about the principles of TCM, they may relax their vigilance against the epidemic by randomly taking some traditional Chinese medicines and forego the mandatory safeguards such as quarantine and hospitalization in the fight against coronavirus.
According to TCM, exogenous diseases including epidemics are determined by the outcome of the fight of healthy qi, or internal energy, against pathogens. The healthy qi is the internal basis of the disease while pathogenic factors are external causes of the illness.
A person may contract a disease when pathogens defeat the healthy qi, which means pathogenic factors play a decisive role in causing a disease in a human being. Also, even if the healthy qi is very strong, it may not be able to win the fight against a strong pathogen.
So it is necessary for humans to take medically prescribed measures to avoid pathogenic transmission, especially when an epidemic breaks out.
But is it necessary to take TCM as a preventive measure during an epidemic?
First, those who have a yin-yang imbalance in the body, such as inner-body dampness ("damp evil") or dryness because of yin deficiency, can take some herbs as prescribed by TCM practitioners. For instance, if a person catches a cold after getting wet in the rain, it is advisable that he or she drink ginger soup. Such measures may prevent pathogenic transmission to some extent.
However, healthy people need not take traditional Chinese drugs to avoid contracting a disease.
Second, there is no need either for people to eat certain types of food to increase their immunity against coronavirus. According to TCM diet therapy, consumption of some types of food based on the body's requirement is good for physical health, but it is unnecessary to do so to prevent coronavirus infection.
Third, physical exercise including Tai Chi can help strengthen the healthy qi to fight against pathogens. But physical exercise is no substitute for medically prescribed safeguards against an epidemic.
Based on its theory and practice, TCM can prove effective in the treatment of influenza, including the novel coronavirus. Therefore, it is critical to highlight holistic treatment based on symptoms differentiation in TCM and necessary adjustments in line with different seasons, geographical conditions and individuals.
As such, the collection of clinical information for diagnosis should focus on not only some characteristic manifestations of the novel coronavirus but also factors including season, location and geographical condition, which are necessary for treatment based on symptom differentiation.
Prognosis, too, should depend on symptom differentiation. For example, since medical information on the novel coronavirus patients from different places points to the existence of "damp evil", the treatment should focus on drying the inner-body "dampness" while avoiding cold-natured medication as the overuse of heat-reducing and toxicity-draining herbs may hurt the spleen and stomach.
Taking into account the differences in geographical condition and climate is helpful for the treatment of infection. For example, Wuhan, capital of Hubei province and epicenter of the epidemic, experienced many rainy days following the epidemic outbreak, which caused the "damp evil".
So attention needs to be paid to all the early, middle as well as late recovery stages of people infected by the novel coronavirus, particularly because the healthy qi may not fully recover even after the disease is cured, owing to lingering fatigue, weakness and loss of appetite.
In short, to control and prevent the spread of the epidemic, it is important to sincerely follow all the principles of TCM while highlighting the integration of Chinese and Western medicines, and avoiding the abuse of herbs. Thanks to its holistic approach to medical treatment, TCM can help contain and prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
The author is president of Fujian University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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