Chinese Medicine and the Swine Flu

December 28, 2009 at 9:12 pm Leave a comment

Have you gotten the swine flu (H1N1) yet? I haven’t, but I bet most of us know someone who has. Predictions were right, that this flu is very contagious and widespread; fortunately, it seems to be less deadly than originally feared. Nonetheless, it is a serious, and very unpleasant, illness, and there is still a lot of flu season ahead of us.

Chinese medicine is well-positioned to help with flu outbreaks; China has suffered through some extremely deadly plagues in its history, and many famous doctors dedicated their lives to developing treatments for the epidemics that devastated their families and communities. Chinese medical scholars and practitioners are busy applying this wisdom to the new H1N1 outbreak.

Treatment with herbal medicine is most effective, and can be separated into three phases: the prevention phase, the initial exposure phase, and the fully-engaged phase. Formulas that are extremely helpful in one phase may be ineffective or even counter-productive in the next phase, so careful professional supervision is important.

Prevention phase: prior to exposure, it is possible and recommended to support the immune system to strengthen it against future exposures. For most people, simply augmenting the wei qi, or external protective qi, is sufficient; in older patients or those with weaker immunity, a different formula is chosen to supplement the core qi as well.

Initial exposure phase: if exposure if certain or probable, there is a small window of opportunity to try and kill the virus before it has a chance to replicate extensively. This phase lasts for at least 2 days after exposure, and as long as 3 days after symptoms have begun, as long as the symptoms are mild.

Herbs can be very effective in this phase. The World Health Organization (WHO) has determined that the H1N1 virus has little or no resistance to neuraminidase inhibitors, which interfere with the virus’ ability to replicate. Several Chinese herbs, most notably sophora root (ku shen) and istatis root (ban lan gen) have been shown to have strong neuraminidase inhibitory effects. Formulas at this stage are organized around the effects of these and similar herbs.

Fully-engaged phase: in this phase, the person is definitely sick. Common symptoms include high fever, racing pulse, fatigue, loss of appetite, chest discomfort, and cough. At this point, the virus has attached to the lung tissue, and anti-viral formulas are ineffective. The strategy at this stage is to use formulas that clear heat, restore and regulate the body’s immune response, relieve the symptoms, and force the pathogen out of the lung so the immune system can reach it.

Early reports suggest that these formulas reduce the length and severity of H1N1 infections.  Talk to your acupuncturist if you need any help with the flu this winter!

Preventing the Flu

H1N1 virus can spread easily withing 8 feet of an infected person, and can live on surfaces up to 8 hours.  To protect yourself and prevent the spread of the virus:

  • wash hands incessantly!  🙂
  • clean surfaces touched by an infected person
  • stay home if you are sick
  • take care of your own immunity: get good sleep, eat well, avoid sugar, and pay attention to your stress level
  • consider taking an immune-boosting herbal formula
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