Chinese Herbal Medicine and COVID-19 Part I

Electron Microscopic Image of  SARS-CoV-2

First, a little background on what we are referring to as “the” coronavirus.  Coronaviruses are a classification of RNA viruses. They cannot replicate on their own, thus have a limited life span outside a host cell (that’s our cells).  Once inside, our cells reproduce the virus.  This pandemic is being caused by a virus named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).  Once it infects a human cell it causes Covid-19.  The incubation period is 2-14 days (this is why you need to self quarantine for 14 days if you think you may have been exposed).  


If you contract Covid-19, you may experience fever, dry cough, sneezing, runny nose, sputum production, nasal congestion, shortness of breath, lethargy, muscle pain, headache and dehydration.  Gastrointestinal symptoms of diarrhea and/or nausea have occurred in 5-10% of patients, before developing fever or breathing difficulties.


With low dose exposure, and a healthy immune system, a patient may have mild symptoms and may begin to feel better in a matter of days, up to 2 weeks.  In any case of infection, patients should still self-quarantine for 14 days, even staying away from those with whom you live.  Just because they are your family, does not make them, or you immune. Dr. David Price at Weill Cornell Medical Center in NY, who is on the front lines treating the worst cases, observed that most infections occur between family members. 


People who are exposed to a larger dose of SARS-CoV-2, through sustained exposure, such as medical workers, and caretakers are at higher risk of a more severe infection.  Also, as we know, those who are immunocompromised, elderly, or have other underlying chronic health conditions are the most likely to fall critically ill, and possibly die from Covid-19.

Given the right circumstances of a high dose of SARS-CoV-2, and/or a compromised immune system, the resulting Covid-19 can cause an uncontrolled immune response, with an overproduction of immune cells and their signaling molecules, resulting in a cytokine storm.  The result of which is extreme congestion in the lungs, with damage to the alveoli, fluid build up in the lungs, and very thick sticky “plugs” that block airspaces. 

Symptoms include severe inflammatory disease, shortness of breath, inflammation of the airways causing wheezing and finally acute respiratory distress and multiple organ failure.  If patients survive, they are often left with physical injury to their lungs (pulmonary fibrosis) that can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).


Western medicine has great tools and expertise to diagnose Covid-19, manage symptoms and keep people alive on ventilators until their body can fight off the virus. 

In TCM, treatment of coronavirus there are 4 stages: Prevention, Early Phase, Pneumonia Phase, and Recovery Phase. The first three phases include varying degrees of supporting immunity, easing symptoms and killing the virus.  The initial phase of prevention includes only a small amount of antiviral herbs.  Should one progress into stages 2 or 3, antivirals are increased accordingly, while immune herbs are lessened or removed all together.  This helps avoid the cytokine storm, while herbs are added to suppress the storm and stronger antivirals are added.


In China, more than 85% of all patients with coronavirus, approximately 60,000 people, received TCM treatment along with western medicine treatments as of late February 2020.  This number continues to grow as hospitals in China continue to use TCM as a complimentary treatment to prevent and combat the coronavirus. 

In prevention and early phases, TCM is an effective way to treat Covid-19.  In more severe cases, such as the pneumonia phase, TCM can be highly beneficial when used in conjunction with western medical intervention.  TCM, has much to offer in the recovery phase, as well.  I have seen many a patient with chronic lung disease gain a better quality of life through the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine.


In my next blog, I will discuss the TCM approach in greater detail, along with my recommendations for you.  Until then, wear a mask, wash your hands, and steer clear!  Protect yourself and others by playing safe.

Sharon Shuppert, L.Ac. Owner of The Phoenix & Dragon Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

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