Pharmacists at a traditional Chinese medicine hospital in Nantong, east China’s Jiangsu province dispense medicines according to prescriptions of a kind of Chinese herbal tea which has proven effective on the prevention of COVID-19, March 5, 2020. Xu Peiqin/People’s Daily Online
Pharmacists at a traditional Chinese medicine hospital in Nantong, east China’s Jiangsu province dispense medicines according to prescriptions of a kind of Chinese herbal tea which has proven effective on the prevention of COVID-19, March 5, 2020. Xu Peiqin/People’s Daily Online

By Wang Junping

By giving out traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in residential communities, Wuchang district of Wuhan, once the epicenter of the novel coronavirus pneumonia, built a solid firewall against the spread of the virus, as well as a line of defense that contributed to all links of the containment, from prevention to treatment, and recovery.

A 77-year-old man surnamed Du, who had contracted the novel coronavirus living in Shuiguohu neighborhood of Wuchang district, is one who benefited from the city’s efforts to prevent the virus by TCM.

Du was discharged from hospital two and a half months ago, and is now able to cook after recovery. It’s hardly imaginable that he was once in critical conditions and incapacitated by the disease, suffering severe breathing problems and losing the ability to eat and walk independently.

The TCM initiative to help Wuchang district fight COVID-19 was raised by Tong Xiaolin, leader of a national TCM treatment group for the novel coronavirus pneumonia. He has been studying how to provide every patient with TCM drugs and prevent them from developing into critical conditions.

Based on his frontline experiences, Tong found most of the patients had symptoms of coughing, fever, inappetence, feebleness, diarrhea and nausea. Therefore, he concluded that lungs and spleen are the organs affected by the disease, and the balance in the patients’ bodies is damaged by both dampness and pathogenic cold.

Tong and local TCM experts in Wuchang district jointly prescribed a basic formula which aimed to detoxify the lungs and remove obstruction in collaterals. Considering the development of the disease, Tong later adjusted the basic formula, making it into four sub-formulas that specifically relieve fever, coughing, inappetence and feebleness, respectively. The sub-formulas were put into use together with the basic one.

For instance, if patients with fevers showed no conspicuous sign of cooling after they take the basic formula for three days, they will be given one of the sub-formulas that is added with extra Chinese herb mahuang and plaster, as well as Radix Bupleuri and Phragmitis rhizoma, to bring down their fevers.

Wuchang district is home to 144 communities and 1.25 million permanent dwellers, so to get prevention measures to the primary level is the right choice. On Feb. 2, the frontline command center of the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine and health authorities of both Hubei and Wuhan decided to distribute TCM drugs in communities as soon as possible.

Deputy head of the district Xiang Yue contacted Jointown Pharmaceutical Group, a major drug producer in Hubei, and ordered 27,000 bags of the basic formula. The drugs were later sent to all quarantine sites and community health service centers in the district, and distributed to residents free of charge.

Over 90 percent of suspected cases at Wuchang’s quarantine site turned to confirmed cases as of Jan. 28, statistics suggested. After TCM intervention was adopted on Feb. 2, the figure was lowered to 30 percent on Feb. 6, and 3 percent on March 5.

The packages of TCM drugs distributed were printed with a QR code each, and the patients could report their conditions and medication after a quick scan so that logs would be generated. Their information and conditions were recorded by volunteers through phone calls or instant messengers. This process enabled doctors to make timely judgement and adjustment.

Liu Baoyan, chief researcher of China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences and director of National Data Center of Traditional Chinese Medicine of China under the academy, told People’s Daily that patients quarantined at home always had difficulties reaching doctors, which caused panic. Through phone calls and communication over instant messengers, they received professional guidance and relieved their anxiety, Liu added.

The basic formula achieved significant initial progress. As of March 5, over 90 percent of the 3,698 confirmed and suspected patients, as well as those with fever who took the drugs found their symptoms gone, including fever, coughing, inappetence, feebleness, diarrhea, shortness of breath and anxiety. It took an average of 1.74 days to bring down the body temperature of the fevered patients.

As of March 25, 12,051 people in quarantine had registered information on mobile application, including 4,579 who had taken the basic formula prescribed by Tong. A total of 27,884 logs were generated. Besides, 690 doctors volunteered to pay follow-up visits, assisting 4,571 patients and making over 30,000 phone calls to the patients.

Liu believes that Wuchang’s efforts were an attempt to digitalize TCM through big data and internet, as well as a modern exploration to contain contagious disease with TCM.

“The timely intervention of TCM is crucial for the entire containment measures,” said Tong, adding that Wuchang’s practice represented a brand-new method for TCM to contribute to epidemic prevention at community level in emerging and major public health incidents.

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