BEIJING, March 10 (Xinhua) -- Jan. 29 was Huang Donghui's first day of rounds in isolation wards in Wuhan.
Among his 60 COVID-19 patients, 56 were severe cases. Many patients were elderly. The oldest was over 90 and many had high-blood pressure and diabetes.
As many were too fatigued to answer questions, he felt unprecedented stress.
But Huang, leader of the medical team from Guangdong Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Hospital, said, "We are from Guangdong. We have experience of treating SARS by combining TCM and Western medicine. Trust us. You'll be fine."
Two weeks later, the atmosphere in Huang's wards was quite different. Patients watched comedy shows on their phones, 19 had been discharged, and 22 were ready to be discharged.
TCM has been in the spotlight during the battle against the novel coronavirus.
As top TCM practitioners across China gathered in Wuhan, it was important to understand how the COVID-19 treatment plans were developed in accordance with TCM principles, and why mixing traditional medicine preparations with Western antiviral drugs might be a recipe for success in the battle against the virus.
TCM has a different set of considerations when it comes to identifying, fighting, and preventing disease.
In TCM, doctors classify diseases according to the accompanying signs, symptoms and development of the disease, rather than according to their viral strain.
In Wuhan, patients in critical condition in ICU and patients with mild symptoms all had mucus-coated tongues, a sign of dampness and turbidity, said Tong Xiaolin, academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and leader of the national TCM expert task force in Wuhan.
"It was a rainy day when we arrived in Wuhan on Jan. 24," he recalled.
The city, according to weather data, had a relatively warm and rainy December, and it had been drizzling for almost 16 days running in January.
According to TCM theories, dampness or high humidity in the body is the root cause of many diseases including respiratory issues.
In TCM, COVID-19 is a cold and dampness epidemic illness, Tong said.
Huang said that dampness is difficult to deal with. It may explain why the condition of many COVID-19 patients suddenly worsened after being stable for a while with Western fever-reducing drugs.
From the perspective of TCM, fever-reducing drugs may get people drenched in sweat, but the fever caused by dampness can only be eradicated through sweating in a mild and slow way.
Huang noted that it took three days for the fever of patients treated with TCM preparations to be gone and the fever never came back.
TCM remedies were prepared based on symptoms of each individual. While COVID-19 patients have different clinical symptoms, such as different fever temperatures and different time periods of the disease phase, the TCM formula recommended by health authorities is a general guide, instead of an all-purpose recipe for curing COVID-19.
Every patient got a custom-made herbal prescription from the Guangdong team.
Huang is also a survivor of SARS and a beneficiary of TCM. He was once on a ventilator for life support, and today can swim and jog with few complications from steroids use.
Although they are TCM teams, the doctors took an approach of coordinated treatment of TCM and western drugs.
During the SARS outbreak in 2003, patients receiving TCM treatments were found to respond better to lower doses of Western medicine protocols including steroids and antiviral drugs. They also had fewer complications and recovered faster.
The efficacy of combining Western medicine and TCM was also acclaimed by the World Health Organization.
Late TCM expert Deng Tietao was known for treating SARS patients with TCM.
Deng, who died at the age of 104 last year, once said that TCM does not target the virus and whether or not the virus has mutated is not an issue as far as the principles of TCM treatment are concerned.
The goal of TCM is not to kill the virus, but to drive it away by restoring the internal balance and boost the body. That is why traditional Chinese medicine can cure some severe illnesses, even if it has no microbiological make-up.
Zhang Boli, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said Western medicine offers important life-supporting measures such as respiratory and circulatory support, while TCM focuses on improving physical condition and immune function.
"They complement each other," he said.