By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. and Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac., Ph.D.
The on-going outbreak of the novel coronavirus COVID-19, also called SARS-CoV-2, has dramatically changed all of our lives in a very short period of time. As the world confronts this healthcare crisis, it is more important than ever that we all take good care of ourselves and each other in our families, local communities, and globally. As doctors of TCM and Acupuncture with over 30 years of experience, we want to assure you that we are here to help. TCM and Acupuncture have been effectively helping Chinese people fighting with different types of severe widespread viral infection for three thousand years. Keep calm during the pandemic period; do not panic. Scientists and doctors have enough modern molecular and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) tools to help us manage this if we come together in time.
The current outbreak of a new type of coronavirus discovered in December of 2019 in China. Since then, the virus has spread quickly. At least 170 countries around the globe have reported confirmed cases. Currently in the U.S. people in every state have tested positive for COVID-19, and the numbers are growing rapidly. As of this writing on March 29, 2020, 721,584 total cases have been confirmed and 33,958 people have died worldwide of SARS-CoV-2 or coronavirus complications.
In this article we will discuss some basics about coronaviruses and how to respond if you start to feel symptoms that may be related to COVID-19. We will review what best practices everyone must observe in order to prevent the spread of the illness. And we will offer advice for self-care based on TCM principles.
What is a Coronavirus from TCM Perspective?
Coronaviruses are a large group of single-strand RNA viruses. This long single RNA strand is highly susceptible to rapid recombination, mutation, and change. Once the virus gets into the cells of its host, it replicates in such a way that infected cells bind with uninfected cells. This is how the virus is able to spread quickly through the body without being detected or attacked by the immune system.
The name “coronavirus” refers to the appearance of the virus particle (virion) as viewed through a microscope, with tiny spiny projections extending out of the central rounded shape so that it resembles a sun with rays (a “corona”).
These viruses move through animal and human populations. In rare circumstances, an animal coronavirus can mutate and be transmitted to a human; this is called a “spillover event.” In humans a coronavirus causes symptoms of illness ranging from those usually experienced with a mild cold all the way to severe respiratory problems.
Outbreaks of corona-type and other deadly viruses have occurred in 2002, with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) in 2014, and Ebola from 2013-2016. SARS-CoV also began in China, causing flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, and a dry cough and spreading quickly person-to-person. By the time a vaccine was found, the coronavirus had almost died out on its own. MERS, which had first been detected in 2012, reached an outbreak status and spread throughout the Middle East in 2014. MERS coronavirus also caused fever and cough. Not as easily transmitted as SARS, it nevertheless had a high fatality rate, especially amongst patients with comorbidities. Ebola has emerged periodically in Africa since it was first discovered in 1976. It spreads by direct contact through bodily fluids and contaminated objects. Ebola causes fever, body aches, and gastrointestinal distress like diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
Epidemiologists learned a lot from these outbreaks about viruses and how they spread, but each new virus is unique. Experience should have made it clear to scientists and leaders that a new virus could emerge from any corner of the world at any time. Now that it has, all of humanity must do what is necessary to defeat this common enemy.
In a classic text that dates back to the eighteenth century, Wen Bing Tiao Bian, Traditional Chinese Medicine Master Physician Wu Jutong offered specifics about various differentiations of “warm, seasonal” illnesses and how to treat them. He documented “Wen Yi,” (温疫） translated as “Heat Disease,” which corresponds to our current scientific understanding of coronaviruses. For over 2000 years, since the Han Dynasty, Wen Yi outbreaks have been recorded 321 times, 254 of which became serious epidemics. Throughout history, we have relied on TCM to protect the population.
TCM has its own principles and methods of diagnosis. The appearance of the tongue and the feel and quality of the pulse, in particular, provide important information for the acupuncturist. Highly trained TCM practitioners have clear indications for what type of pulse is an indicator of the illness. We view this type of illness as being due to an excess of dampness with heat that affects the lungs, stomach and spleen. Too much dampness in the body causes inflammation and internal heat. Our approach is to try to stop the virus from moving through the body. Balancing Yin and Yang energies and strengthening Qi can help a person fight off the virus when it’s still in its early stages. COVID-19 is especially dangerous for older people with underlying conditions, but even young people who already have lung conditions such as asthma, a tendency to get bronchitis, a history of pneumonia, or gastrointestinal problems can have trouble fighting off the virus. This illness tends to begin with a scratchy, sore throat; pay attention and take action before the virus takes hold. Call us to discuss an herbal formulation.
If you want to have additional support by acupuncture and TCM for your positive energy (Qi), and to reach your optimal health in preventing and recovering from a viral infection, we encourage you to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org for further professional advice from the view of Chinese Medicine. We are here so that we can help you through this crisis. Call or email us so that we discuss your symptoms, arrange for treatment in our office if appropriate, and/or ship herbs to you. Feelings of anxiety and panic are also very valid reasons to reach out to us. Excess stress will have a negative effect on mental and physical health.
What Are the Symptoms of COVID-19?
Some people might have already been infected with the novel coronavirus and are not aware of it. Symptoms of the virus may be mild, or even nonexistent. Some people may have felt sick recently, but thought it was a flu or even a common cold, because the symptoms are similar from beginning.
The vast majority of people will recover from the virus at home. If you are feeling any of these symptoms, stay home, separate yourself from other people, rest, take extra care of yourself, and call us for further advice.
- A new, persistent, dry cough
- Fever, high temperature and/or sense of being very hot
- Tiredness, fatigue
- Body aches, headache
- Nasal congestion
- Sore throat
- Nausea or diarrhea
- Loss of sense of smell/taste
If symptoms become more severe, seek medical assistance. Call your own doctor or the emergency room first before leaving home. If possible, wear a mask when you enter the medical facility to help protect others. Seek medical assistance immediately if you experience these Emergency Warning Signs:
- Trouble breathing
- High fever
- Persistent pain in chest
- Confusion, inability to rouse
- Bluish cast to skin or lips
The Potential Spread Paths of Coronavirus COVID-19
The novel coronavirus is highly contagious. People are being asked to stay at home. Social distancing will help prevent the disease from spreading as quickly, so that hospitals, supplies, and medical staff are not overwhelmed. One of the unique characteristics of the COVID-19 virus appears to be its ability to remain on surfaces and even in the air for a long time.
COVID-19 can survive in airborne droplets for up to 3 hours. This is why it’s so important to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and why you must keep at least six feet of distance between yourself and others when you go outside. Face masks help mostly by preventing the virus from being ejected out into the environment by someone who is already sick or carrying the virus. The virus can survive for up to 72 hours in shiny surfaces. Think about door handles, sinks, countertops, toys, cans and bottles. Wipe down surfaces regularly and wash or disinfect everything you bring home from the grocery store before putting it away.
The virus gets into the human body primarily through the nose, mouth and eyes. Avoid touching things unnecessarily, and wear gloves when you’re shopping that can be washed in hot water or thrown away. Avoid touching your face. And, of course, wash your hands frequently and carefully with soap and warm water in at least 22 second each time.
The incubation period for the coronavirus can be as short as 3 days, but cases have been documented in which as many as 27 days passed before an exposed person develops symptoms. This means many people may have the infection without feeling any symptoms. Some people will get sick with the virus, but only experience mild symptoms. But all of these people are contagious and can pass COVID-19 to others, some of whom may have underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to serious illness. People who are immunocompromised or who already have respiratory or cardiovascular problems can become seriously ill and need intensive care.
If someone in your household starts showing symptoms, designate a room to keep them separate from everyone else. Bring them food and supplies, check temperature regularly. Do not hesitate to call us and ask for advice.
Caring for Yourself and Loved Ones at Home with TCM
Due to the shortage of supplies for testing and treatment at medical facilities, it may be necessary for many people to seek advice regarding how to diagnose coronavirus and how to treat themselves or their family members at home. Only those with the most severe symptoms should go to the hospital.
How to keep yourself strong and balance to prevent viral Infection:
- Keep the throat moist. We always recommend starting off the morning with warm water, or, even better with lemon water. Use whole slices of lemon, or squeeze half lemon in warm water, not just the juice. Drink lots of tea. Herb teas and green teas are preferable to black tea and coffee, which have high acidity.
- Prioritize healthy eating. Now more than ever it is vital to eat nutritious foods, including lots of vegetables and fruits. Spend a few minutes putting together a vegetable or chicken broth, and let it simmer all day. Then you have the base for healthy soups and stir-frys, or you can just sip broth from a mug.
- Limit alcohol consumption. We all need to find ways to unwind, but too much alcohol is disruptive to sleep and can compromise your immune function.
- If at all possible, seek out acupuncture treatment and herbs from your trusted practitioner to help boost your immune system. Now is a good time to seek alternative and integrative medicine. Our office is open, or we can help you over the phone.
Acupuncture and TCM for Fevers and Cough
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine have centuries-old methods for reducing fevers and other symptoms of viruses and forms of the flu, or influenza. TCM doctors in China are currently studying the effects of acupuncture and herbs on patients with coronavirus. Almost 90% of the COVID-19 patients in Beijing received TCM treatments (acupuncture and herbs) in addition to conventional medical intervention. Acupuncture experts are documenting cases where acupuncture brings down fever significantly, and herbs have been shown to help resolve the severe cough.
Stimulating an acupressure point for the lungs can help strengthen Qi and blood flow. Start by giving pressure to this point on the lower corner of the thumbnail. Then begin rubbing the thumb with back and forth strokes from the middle joint down to the fleshy pad at the base of the thumb. Rub until the area feels very warm, 100 times. Then, move to rubbing the whole length of the inside of the arm, from the base of the thumb up to the elbow, again 100 times. Then, rub the whole upper arm, from the the elbow to the shoulder and even the upper back. By doing this, you are warming and stimulating the lung meridian, encouraging a good flow of Qi for the whole lung system.
Top 5 Self-Care Practices for Emotional and Mental Health During Coronavirus Social Distancing
Stress management is more vital in this era of uncertainty than ever. All of us have profound reactions to what is happening all around us. Many of us are worried about our loved ones getting sick. Many of us have to learn a whole new way of doing our jobs from home. Many of us are worried about our work drying up completely. Many of us are home-schooling our children and spending much more time either alone or in crowded living quarters than we are used to. All of this has to be processed. Stress is the body’s response to this situation, and in order to remain healthy, it is important to find ways to release the build-up of stress on a daily basis.
- If you do not already have a meditation practice, now is the ideal time to begin. There are many methods; find one that works for you. Spend at least 20 minutes quietly cultivating peace, ideally first thing in the morning and at night before bed.
- Get your heartrate up and your blood pumping with some form of aerobic exercise. If you live in an area where you can go for a walk or run while maintaining 6 feet of distance between yourself and others, take advantage, and get some sunshine on your skin. Exposure to sunlight raises your Vitamin D levels, which is very beneficial for immunity. Inside, you can find dance or yoga classes online. Get some use out of those hand weights and resistance bands. Working up a sweat will provide great stress relief.
- Allocate a set amount of time for catching up with news. Recognize how your stress levels rise when you are dwelling on things beyond your control.
- Everyone is suddenly more dependent than ever on their computers and phones. But long hours spent sitting and staring at the screen cause so much stress to the body and mind. Take frequent breaks to get up, stretch, walk around, look outside.
- Spend plenty of quiet time reading, writing in a journal, or napping.
According to TCM theory, each living thing is a microcosm of the entire universe. Each of us has an individual responsibility to maintain healthy habits in order to maintain the health of everyone else. Focus on helping those in your immediate vicinity who may not have access to resources. Every action taken by one of us affects all of us. Only by working in harmony will we be able to make it through this challenging time.
Art of Wellness is currently open for patient visits from 10:00 am. To 3:00 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Dr. Tan and Dr. Cai are also available for phone consultations and will ship herb orders to you during those days. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us with your questions and concerns.
Our bests thoughts and wishes are always with you and your family.