Prevention of Influenza with TCM

November 10, 2014

By Cheng Wang, MD(China), PhD, L.Ac, LOM

Influenza, also known as the "flu", is an acute respiratory infectious disease caused by influenza viruses. The disease has an acute onset with the common symptoms of chills, fever (with body temperatures ranging from 38–39°C), headache, sore throat, cough, muscle pains, weakness and fatigue.[1] Occasionally, it may lead to pneumonia, either direct viral pneumonia or secondary bacterial pneumonia [2] and produce nausea and vomiting, especially in children. Although it is often difficult to distinguish between the common cold and influenza in the early stages of these infections, flu can be identified by a high fever with a sudden onset, extreme symptoms of systemic poisoning and light respiratory symptoms.

Influenza viruses are RNA viruses of the family Orthomyxoviridae. [3] According to the different antigenicity, they can be classified into three types: influenza virus A, influenza virus B and influenza virus C. Occasionally, viruses are transmitted to other species and may then cause devastating outbreaks in domestic poultry or give rise to human influenza pandemics.[4] Among the three types, A viruses are the most virulent human pathogens and cause the most severe disease.

Generally, influenza is transmitted mainly through the air when someone inhales the aerosols produced by an infected person coughing, sneezing or spitting and through hand-to-eye, hand-to-nose, or hand-to-mouth contact, either from contaminated surfaces or from direct personal contact such as a hand-shake. Reportedly, influenza spreads around the world in seasonal epidemics, bringing about three to five million cases of severe illness and about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths annually,[5] rising to millions in some pandemic years.

When it comes to the prevention of influenza, some medical institutions or health organizations will recommend the influenza vaccine without hesitation, telling that vaccination is effective and enough to avoid influenza. However, the fact is that an influenza vaccine can only guard against one serotype of influenza virus and there are too many serotypes to prevent. Worse still, it is the common feature of RNA virus that readily mutate, creating new strains and causing a loss of function in vaccination.

What is the traditional way to treat influenza?

For the treatment, people who catch the flu are advised to get plenty of liquids and good rest, avoid drinking and smoking and, if necessary, take some acetaminophen to relieve the fever and muscle aches. Since influenza is caused by viruses, antiviral medicines may be effective, but some strains of influenza have show resistance to them. Neuraminidase inhibitors (oseltamivir and zanamivir) and M2 protein inhibitors (adamantane derivatives) are the two classes of antiviral drugs used against influenza. Admittedly, their effectiveness is disputed and their adverse effects cannot be ignored.[6]

Prevention of influenza with TCM

As to the prevention and treatment of epidemic, the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and acupuncture have a long history and gains worldwide praises for its exact effectiveness. Instead of circumscribed control of different types of viruses, TCM and acupuncture dispose influenza and other epidemics correspondingly to different external climatic or environmental factors and internal circumstance.

Clinical trails reveal that TCM and acupuncture therapies are simple, effective, lack of adverse effects and free of drug resistance. According to the theory of TCM, influenza can be categorized into three types on the basis of various symptoms: the wind-heat type, the wind-cold type and plague-poison type. Usually a TCM doctor or an acupuncturist would firstly collect information about the disease, then judge the type and finally give different Chinese herbs or take several different acupoints for acupuncture treatment. TCM and acupuncture can not only cure influenza, but also improve immunity and promote health.

1. Influenza: Viral Infections: Merck Manual Home Edition. Merck. Retrieved 15 March 2008.
2. Ballinger, MN; Standiford, TJ (Sep 2010). Postinfluenza bacterial pneumonia: host defenses gone awry". J Interferon Cytokine Res 30 (9): 643–52.
3. Kawaoka Y (editor) (2006). Influenza Virology: Current Topics. Caister Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-904455-06-6.
4. Klenk (2008). “Avian Influenza: Molecular Mechanisms of Pathogenesis and Host Range”. Animal Viruses: Molecular Biology. Caister Academic Press. ISBN 978-1-904455-22-6.
5. Influenza (Seasonal), World Health Organization, April 2009. Retrieved 13 February 2010.
6. Jefferson T, Jones MA, Doshi P, et al. (2012). ”Neuraminidase inhibitors for preventing and treating influenza in healthy adults and children”. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 1: CD008965.

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