A Few Word Concerning the H1N1 Virus
by Clark Zimmerman, L.Ac.
By now I’m sure everyone has become somewhat familiar with the H1N1 Virus. We have seen quite a few patients with flu-like symptoms, and some confirmed cases of H1N1 Virus in our clinic. Chinese medicine can be very helpful in the prevention or treatment of the H1N1 virus. There is a great article written by John Heuertz, published in the Gold Flower Chinese Herbs autumn 2009 newsletter. In it, John describes the four phases of viral infection, and some Chinese medical treatment protocols that can effectively address a virus in it’s different stages. The four phases of exposure include: prevention, initial exposure, fully engaged and critical phases. Each phase has different characteristics, and different treatment strategies.
As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is very true with the H1N1 virus. The first thing we should all remember to do is wash our hands frequently. Since the virus can live on surfaces for 8 or more hours, we must assume that any surface that we touch in a public place, especially in a place where a lot of people gather, is contaminated. In addition to hand washing, we should clean off any surgaces that are exposed to the virus. Diluted bleach and Lysol© are two effective ways to disinfect surfaces. Facemasks have been toted as a way to reduce exposure or spreading the virus, but they are only partially effective. The Center for Disease Control recommends that people with compromised immune functions should wear facemasks to reduce their risk of exposure. Also many medical offices are now requesting that people who are acutely ill wear facemasks to reduce spreading viruses. I believe that the best means of prevention or minimizing the impact of viral infections is to build and maintain a strong immune system. Sooner or later, despite our best efforts, we will most likely be exposed to each virus that comes around each year. Therefore, we should strive to optimize our immune function. We all know that basics: plenty of rest, proper diet, plenty of fluids, moderate exercise and reducing stress can all go a long way in keeping us healthy. Regular visits to a qualified Chinese medical practitioner can also be very helpful in preventing or reducing the severity of many different colds and flus.
In Chinese medicine, any pathogenic invader is referred to as an “evil pernicious influnce” or “EPI”. An EPI is poetically said to ride on the wind into the body, thus an EPI is also known as a “wind invasion.” Wind is usually accompanied by cold, heat, or dampness. Each of these three situation presents with different symptoms and characteristics, and thus we treat each of these three patterns differently. If the initial invasion is mistreated, it may cause the cold or flu to become more severe, or to linger in the body.
Like an invading army, EPI’s attack when a host’s immune system is weak. Thus, the first thing we do to prevent viral infections is to strengthen the body’s defensive qi or “wei qi.” Wei qi is primarily associated with the lungs, but also is affected by the kidneys and spleen. If a person has strong wei qi, they are less likely to become severely ill. Research has demonstrated that acupuncture and Chinese herbs are both effective at improving the body’s immune response.
The first priority is prevention, but what happens when we do catch a virus and begin showing symptoms? During this initial exposure phase, the EPI is still considered to be located superficially in the body. According to western epidemiology. the virus has not yet attached to the lung tissue. The symptoms at this stage include body aches, slight sore throat, fever, and chills. The treatment strategy is to encourage the invader to leave the body through the skin. Thus we use acupuncture points and herbal formulas that “release the exterior” of the body. In addition to releasing the exterior, we also focus on the accompanying pattern of heat, cold or dampness. The acupuncture points used and especially the herbal prescriptions can vary dramatically, depending on the presenting pattern. At this stage of development, a pathogen can be effectively dispelled in a relatively short time if it is treated prompty and properly. If a pathogen goes untreated, is improperly treated, or if the pathogen is stronger than the body’s wei qi, than a disease can progress to the next phase.
The fully engaged phase is when a wind invasion sinks deeper into the body. No longer is the body able to rid itself of the EPI by means of the skin. Now an illness has rooted into the body and must be treated differently. Symptoms increase in severity and may also include a rapid pulse, high fever, extreme sort throat, poor appetite, a tight chest with a cough, and possibly nausea or vomiting. Since an EPI becomes a predominant heat pattern at this point, the treatment strategy focuses on clearing heat, while also relieving toxicity, and treating accompanying symptoms. It may also be necessary to strengthen the body, as at this point it has likely become weakened from prolonged illness. We use a completely different set of herbal prescriptions and some different acupuncture protocols to treat an EPI in the fully engaged phase.
If an EPI goes untreated or if treatment is unsuccessful, then an EPI progresses to the Critical phase, which is life threatening and requires more aggressive western medical intervention.
Traditional Chinese medicine has been helping in the treatment of colds and flus for thousands of years. It is remarkably effective and cheap way to maintain good health, even in the face of epidemics.