Traditional Chinese Medicine and COVID-19

There is currently no specific antiviral treatment for the new Coronavirus. And that forces medical professionals here and in China to research the best methods of prevention and treatment while the world waits for a vaccine.

In Western medicine, part of how doctors diagnose COVID-19 is by analyzing RNA in a patient’s throat. In China, they do the same. But they also use traditional Chinese medicine, known as TCM.

Dr. Joy Yang is a TCM practitioner in Blacksburg. She says TCM diagnoses start with taking a person’s pulse. She says, “the coronavirus patient has a specific and unusual pulse.”

An unusual pulse says a lot in traditional Chinese medicine, as does the color and appearance of a person’s tongue. These ancient diagnostic tools are relevant in this current epidemic.

“When you combine them, you can tell that person has the coronavirus, not the flu,” she explains.

In Western medicine, doctors say what distinguishes the coronavirus from the flu is that the former eventually presents with a dry cough and shortness of breath. Patients with influenza and COVID-19 will have a fever, although it is not always present in mild cases of influenza.

Yang is an assistant professor at Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. She says that even if a COVID-19 patient no longer has a fever, that doesn’t necessarily mean the person has recovered.

“We have yet to see the pulse return to normal. Also, the tongue should be back to normal and the scan images should be back to normal. So, with all of these things put together, we can say that this person is truly recovered.

But even someone who has recovered from COVID-19 may still be able to spread the disease. A study in Wuhan published in JAMA in late February found people who recovered but still tested positive for the disease.

“These results suggest that at least a proportion of recovered patients may still carry the virus,” she says.

Dr. Yang stocked up on Chinese herbs to treat his patients. Doctors in China have identified 3 acupuncture points that may be helpful with Coronavirus. Dr. She is in daily contact with colleagues in China, getting updates on treatment and results from around the country and posting updates on his website.

(A live map of coronavirus cases from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering)

You can find more information about COVID-19 from the Virginia Department of Health here.