Hong Kong Hospital Authority is right to back Chinese medicine as flu treatment

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2017, 4:21pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 August, 2017, 7:00pm

The flu outbreak has caused considerable stress on the health care system, and in response to this the Hospital Authority recommended Chinese medicine as one of the service options. Paul Stapleton expressed doubts about the appropriateness of such a recommendation (“Can Chinese medicine really deal with flu?” July 28), but we would like to offer an alternative view from an evidence-based perspective.

Effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine in managing influenza has been proven in randomised controlled trials (RCTs), the gold standard primary study design for treatment evaluation in the evidence-based health care paradigm.

A systematic review of existing RCTs has shown that combined use of selected Chinese herbal medicines with oseltamivir, the main conventional treatment, is superior to oseltamivir alone for shortening time to fever clearance. A follow-up trial with more than 400 participants published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, a top-tier medical journal, has reconfirmed this conclusion. In this trial, minimal adverse events were observed in the combined use of herbs and oseltamivir.

Recently, oseltamivir was downgraded from “core” to “complementary” in the World Health Organisation’s essential drug list, owing to its limited effectiveness.

As existing clinical evidence has confirmed the potential of Chinese herbal medicine in augmenting oseltamivir, we believe that recommendations from the Hospital Authority were timely and prudent. In its latest report, the Centre for Health Protection predicts that influenza activity will remain high in the next few weeks.

Chinese medicine practitioners will continue to contribute to relieving the burden on the public health care system, and patients in need should consult a qualified Chinese medicine practitioner for a tailored herbal prescription.

Vincent Chung, associate director (education), Hong Kong

Institute of Integrative Medicine; Leung Ting-hung, professor,

School of Chinese Medicine, Chinese University of Hong Kong