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Traditional medicine used to battle new flu
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Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is being widely used to treat A(H1N1) flu patients in China, a senior health official confirmed Monday.

"China has been, so far, the only country worldwide to introduce traditional medicine, particularly the TCM, which had been practiced for thousands of years in the nation in the treatment of diseases," said Ren Minghui, director of the international cooperation department of the Ministry of Health (MOH).

As of late yesterday, health authorities had announced 39 confirmed A(H1N1) flu cases and one additional suspected case on the Chinese mainland.

The latest six confirmed cases were reported yesterday - three in Beijing, two in Fujian province and one in Guangdong province.

"Currently, TCM has shown certain efficacy in all confirmed patients under treatment and a total of nine have already fully recovered and been discharged from the hospital," said Jiang Liangduo, a TCM expert at the Beijing-based Dongzhimen Hospital Affiliated to Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.

Jiang is part of a MOH-initiated special taskforce comprising dozens of TCM experts charged with looking for ways to contain the flu through a TCM approach.

"A great variety of both the ready-to-use and unprocessed TCM, mainly herbals, has been used in the treatment," he noted.

Personal conditions of the patients, including gender, age, and symptoms, would be considered in deciding specific treatment method in terms of dosage and choices of different herbs, he said.

Shortly after China uncovered its first confirmed case last month, the MOH released guidelines for treating A(H1N1), which made Western medicine combined with TCM the primary course of treatment, he added.

It's not the first time a combination of Western and TCM medicines has been used to fight an epidemic, said Wang Xiaopin, director of the international cooperation department at the State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

During the SARS outbreak in 2003, China used a combination approach.

"Among more than 5,000 SARS patients, up to 60 percent received such treatment, mostly with proven efficacy," she said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) later recognized China's efforts for its efficacy, safety and quality.

"We've been using TCM to treat influenza, actually, for many years and the A(H1N1) is just one form of flu which can also be treated with TCM," said Jiang, who expressed optimism about curbing the disease.

A resolution initiated by China to promote tradition medicine worldwide was passed at the 62nd International Health Assembly a few weeks ago.

However, international knowledge and understanding of traditional medicine is still quite limited, said Ren, who attended the assembly.

Participants were interested to learn from Chen Zhu, China's Health Minister, that the Star Anise, a star-shaped herbal fruit long used in TCM and Chinese cuisine, was the source of the production of Shikimic acid, a primary feedstock used to create the anti-A(H1N1) flu drug Tamiflu.

"As far as I know, China has long been a major Star Anise supplier for Roche," Ren said. "We are contributing indirectly to the global fight against the epidemic, but few know."

(China Daily June 2, 2009)

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