Coronavirus and “Alternative” Treatments

March 2, 2020 Joe Brady

First of all, a caveat, no one is claiming that any alternative medicine techniques can “cure” COVID 19, commonly called Coronavirus. Scientists are working on a drug, Remdesivir, that was previously tested in humans for Ebola and in animals for MERS and SARS. The drug is currently being tested at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and there are clinical trials of remdesivir going on in China. We are at least weeks and more likely months away from the results of that study being usable and at that, there is no guarantee that the drug will work. What are people supposed to do in the meantime? Wash your hands is the usual advice.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is a different approach to disease that often clashes with western medicine. Instead of patients being viewed as “victims” of their disease, patients are encouraged to be active participants in their own healing. In addition to whatever western treatments are available Chinese patients will do exercises, change their diet, use traditional herbal formulas and many other techniques like acupuncture, cupping, massage and meditations that are not available to western doctors yet can still play a role in making patients feel better. In the absence of a cure, there must be room in medicine for making patients feel better.

Tai Chi and Corona Virus

One technique that is getting a lot of play on the internet is the use of Tai Chi and a set of Qigong exercises called the Eight Silken Forms or Ba Duan Jin as an adjunct to treatment in patients in Wuhan with Coronavirus. And no, don’t be an idiot, Tai Chi is not a cure for Coronavirus. However in can play a vital role in recovery. Because Tai Chi and the Eight Silken forms involve breathing exercises and mild levels of physical activity they can form a vital bridge between being on a ventilator being able to breathe on your own. The longer a patient is lying in bed the more their lungs fill with fluid making it harder and harder to breathe. The sooner the patient is up and moving around the better. Tai Chi and other Qigong exercises can be an effective bridge between being a victim and being an active participant in your own healing. The Chinese are encouraging people that are under quarantine to keep themselves healthy with some indoor exercises like Tai Chi and Ba Duan Jin. The Chinese are also encouraging recovering patients to use Tai Chi to help them get their breathing back and gt their strength back.

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Herbs and Corona Virus

For over 2000 years the Chinese have used an herb called Ban Lan Gen in the treatment of colds and flu viruses. Currently in Wuhan and other hospitals in China western doctors and traditional Chinese medical doctors are working side by side. The Chinese are using their complete armamentarium of anti-viral herbs to fight this disease. When western scientists come up with an anti-viral drug that works the Chinese will use it wholeheartedly but in the absence of an effective western drug, there is no way you are going to stop the Chinese from using things like ban Lan get that they themselves have found to be safe and effective in the past. According to the World Health Organization, the fact that an herbal treatment has been used for thousands of years in a culture is evidence of its safety and efficacy, not the gold standard of evidence but evidence nonetheless. These herbs are effective enough to currently be under clinical trials in the US.

Efficacy and safety of Ban-Lan-Gen granules in the treatment of seasonal influenza: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial

Current Biomedical Advice for Preventing Corona Virus

While scientists at NIH and elsewhere are evaluating candidate therapies and vaccines to treat and prevent the novel coronavirus, currently there are no treatments or vaccines for COVID-19 approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid exposure to this virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of this and other respiratory viruses, including the following:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you are sick, and keep children home from school when they are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

To this list, the Chinese would add

  • Eat right and get some exercise
  • Drink lot’s of fluids and keep yourself well hydrated
  • Reduce stress and get yourself a regular meditation practice
  • If you are sick and have to go out in public wear a face mask to protect others you may come in contact with 
  • Keep some extra food in the house in case you must endure a quarantine

If you feel sick with fever, cough, or difficulty breathing, and have traveled to China or were in close contact with someone with COVID-19 in the 14 days before you began to feel sick, seek medical care. Before you go to a doctor’s office or emergency room, call ahead and tell them about your recent travel or exposure and your symptoms.

For more information about what everyone can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S., including the general public, health care professionals, and travelers, visit What CDC Recommends. For more information on NIH research on coronaviruses, visit the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

For more on what Chinese medicine is doing about coronavirus see