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While scientists are racing against time to develop a vaccine for COVID-19, other types of treatment are being tried out on the infected patients to battle against the coronavirus. This includes traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). In China, medical doctors have said to combine TCM and Western medicine as part of COVID-19 treatment for its patients. We asked experts: 

“How effective is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in treating COVID-19?”


Dr Cindy Teh, Microbiologist & Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya, said:

“Currently, there’s a lack of information about the effectiveness of TCM in treating COVID-19 patients. Based on the evidence shown in the clinical studies in China, TCM that being used together with conventional treatment had some positive effects, including better control of fever, quicker clearance of chest infection and other symptoms. However, such beneficial effects of TCM are not conclusive due to the poor study design in most of the studies. 

Furthermore, herbs used in TCM can mimic, or magnify, or oppose the effect of conventional medicines; hence, more study with proper experimental design should be performed to evaluate the efficiency of TCM in treating COVID-19 patients and to investigate the herb-drug interaction during treatment.”

Dr Tan Cheng Siang, Virologist & Head of Centre for Tropical and Emerging Diseases, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University Malaysia Sarawak, said: 

“I am doubtful regarding the efficacy of TCM as an alternative treatment for COVID-19 patients. SARS-CoV-2 infections have the death rate of 4%, meaning 96% of patients will eventually recover. Although the admission to the intensive care unit (ICU) with ventilation support is important for those developing pneumonia and other complications, most patients do not develop severe COVID-19. So, the use of any traditional medicine, herbs, vitamins and unproven multi-level marketing products will give a miraculous healing rate of about 96%. This is what we call the placebo effect. For example, you are suffering from food poisoning and took a tablet of paracetamol. Your diarrhoea stopped after a few hours as mild food poisoning resolved itself. The paracetamol did not cure your diarrhoea. Nothing cured. You will recover even if you do not do anything as most infections are self-limiting. Remember that SARS-CoV-2 infection is not a death sentence.”

Disclaimer: These comments were complied to provide journalists with a range of expert perspectives on the subject. The views expressed here are the personal opinions of the experts. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the Science Media Centre or any other organisation unless specifically stated. 
Bionotes of experts

Dr Cindy Teh is a senior lecturer from the Faculty of Medicine, University of Malaya. She is a microbiologist and trained in biorisk management. She has been assisting Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) infection control department to trace the transmission of infectious diseases since 2013. Dr. Cindy has been publishing her research findings in internationally renowned journals and served as reviewer for the journals. She has been awarded research grants and awards from national and international bodies for her research in infectious diseases.

Dr Tan Cheng Siang is the Head of Centre for Tropical and Emerging Diseases, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, University Malaysia Sarawak. A trained virologist, he has more than 20 years experience in handling infectious viruses, virus isolation and identification, phylogeny, molecular epidemiology, recombinant protein expression and diagnostic tool development. He is also a certified biosafety officer and holds four Certified Professional credentials from the International Federation of Biosafety Associations (IFBA). 

**All previous posts about COVID-19 here: https://sciencemediacentremalaysia.com/tag/covid-19/

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