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Feeling the H7N9 strain

By Wang Hongyi and Liu Zhihua (China Daily)

08:39, April 10, 2013

Banlangen has become a hot commodity in pharmacies across the country. HUANG HE / FOR CHINA DAILY

"Although banlangen does function as an antiviral, it has side effects and may cause allergic reactions," says Zhang Wei, a TCM expert in Shanghai.

Traditional Chinese medicine should be used under medical guidance and if not can have negative effects, he adds.

"Banlangen granules are a combination of several herbs," says Zhang Shunan, vice-director of the lung diseases department at China-Japan Friendship Hospital, a TCM practitioner, and executive director with the World Federation of Chinese Medicine Societies.

"It is a staple traditional Chinese medicine that has been used for colds and other ailments for ages, but it cannot be used as a universal preventive drug against the new bird flu."

Firstly, he says, there is no such thing as a TCM preventative prescription that works for everyone. This goes against the key doctrine of TCM that emphasizes personalized prescriptions for each individual, according to their situation.

Second, there are different types of colds and flus that are variously categorized as "cold-natured" and "heat-natured".

Banlangen only can relieve the symptoms caused by heat-natured diseases, Zhang says. "You can't simply say banlangen does or doesn't work against bird flu."

"Whether the herb can treat the disease or not is dependent on whether the disease is heat-nature based. It is not about the disease alone, it is related to the symptoms that are determined by the disease, the patient's physical condition, the environment and the weather, taken as a whole.

"If the patient's symptoms are caused by a bird flu that has a heat nature, banlangen can treat the disease, otherwise, it cannot."

Only a TCM practitioner can decide if banlangen is suitable for treating an ailment, Zhang insists, and if not the undesirable side effects can include discomfort to the digestive tract, especially children and the elderly.

In some extreme cases, banlangen may cause diarrhea and dehydration, Zhang warns.

"Additionally, it is nonsense to suggest that banlangen can boost the immune system. And if there is no disease, why bother to take medicines? It is like fighting an enemy that exists only in the imagination."

Ke Huixing, vice-director of the respiratory diseases department at Beijing Hospital, says: "To date there have been no clinical trials or observations confirming the efficacy of banlangen against the H7N9 virus."

Therefore, Ke suggests, people should not take the herb, unless directed to do so by a qualified TCM practitioner.

Doing so could affect the metabolism, including the digestive tract, kidney and liver. It will do more harm than good to take banlangen to prevent H7N9 bird flu infection if someone is healthy, Ke confirms.

"The government and experts should take responsibility to explain to the public that there is no need to panic."

Instead, Ke says people should keep fit to maintain their immune systems and be careful not to come into contact with infected poultry.

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Latest development of H7N9 in China[Special]

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