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Chinese hospitals have been advised to adopt a variety of treatments on patients infected with Wuhan coronavirus. Photo:

No cure but China offers pointers on Wuhan coronavirus treatment

  • Traditional Chinese medicine and artificial lungs could be used in some cases, National Health Commission says
  • Authorities outline quarantine restrictions for confirmed and suspected cases
With no cure to offer, China’s top health body has advised hospitals to use a range of treatments – including traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and “artificial lungs” – to tackle a deadly coronavirus.

In guidelines published on Thursday afternoon, the National Health Commission advised that suspected cases be isolated.

“Confirmed cases can be put in the same ward. Critical patients need to be put into intensive care as soon as possible,” the commission said.

Patients requiring “basic treatment” should be given supplemental oxygen and antiviral medication.

The new coronavirus, officially named 2019-nCoV, emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has killed 17 people.
It belongs to the same family of infections as severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), with patients suffering from pneumonia-like symptoms.

More than 30 people diagnosed with the illness were reported to have recovered and had been discharged from Chinese hospitals, Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily reported on Thursday.

The commission also suggested TCM as a treatment approach, listing Chinese herbal prescriptions for use on patients depending on which of the four Chinese medicine categories their conditions fell into – “damp, hot, toxic, bruised”.

The suggested treatments were “not for prevention of the disease” and “for reference according to climate in each of the locations and health conditions of the patients”, the commission said.

For patients in a serious or critical condition, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) – an artificial heart-and-lung treatment was an option.

ECMO, which involves pumping blood through a device that adds oxygen to it and then pumping it back into the patient’s body, has been used on one confirmed case of the illness at Wuhan University’s Zhongnan Hospital, according to Shanghai-based news outlet The Paper. The patient had been in a critical condition but the report did not say how the patient responded to the treatment.

However the treatment would only apply to a limited number of patients and was not a cure, according to Professor David Hui Shu-cheong, a respiratory medicine specialist at Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“ECMO is only suitable to be used on those in very critical condition, and those who do not suffer from chronic illnesses,” Hui said, adding that the treatment required a lot of resources and was only available in China at major metropolitan hospitals.

“It needs at least four nurses to operate.”

During the Sars outbreak in Hong Kong in 2003, patients with severe respiratory failure were only supported by conventional mechanical ventilation. However, ECMO has been used in China for other influenza outbreaks, including H1N1 in 2009 and H7N9 in 2013.

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