HONG KONG: Desperately searching for a sure-fire cure for SARS, Hong Kong's hospitals will allow the use of traditional Chinese medicine for the first time since World War II, the city's health authority said yesterday.
The surprise move came after Hong Kong announced another six deaths from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, and as more doctors and nurses in the territory began taking Chinese herbs to protect themselves against the deadly virus.
The six deaths yesterday brought the total death toll here to 94, the highest in the world, while infections rose to 1,402 from 1,380 on Sunday.
“We are open to the use of Chinese medicine,” said Liu Shao-haei, senior executive manager of the Hospital Authority.
“But we will see if the patient wants it, how it is to be applied and if the patient's condition allows for such alternative types of treatment,” he told a news conference.
Hospitals in the city have not used traditional Chinese medicine for treatment since the Japanese occupation in the early 1940s.
But the medicines, mostly derived from plants, are extremely popular in the city of seven million. Since the outbreak of SARS in February, hundreds of thousands of people are using traditional recipes to ward off the virus.
Some doctors and relatives of patients here have been lobbying for the use of Chinese herbs to treat SARS, especially after officials recently said a cocktail of the anti-viral drug, ribavirin, and steroids was not working for a small but growing number of patients.
There is no cure for SARS. Scientists have identified the culprit virus and cracked its genomic sequence, which will help refine tests for an early diagnosis of the illness, but designing a cure and a vaccine will take years.
A team of Chinese medicine experts at Hong Kong's Chinese University put together a recipe in mid-April as part of an urgent effort to bring down the rate of infection among front-line medical staff.
Front-line healthcare workers are especially vulnerable to SARS and up to a quarter of people infected here are doctors and nurses who had attended to severely ill SARS patients.
“Chinese medicine is most suitable for prevention of the illness and for treatment in the initial and middle stages of the illness,” said Professor Cen Ze-bo of the School of Chinese Medicine at the Chinese University.
Doctors and nurses at the Prince of Wales Hospital, site of Hong Kong's first SARS outbreak, have been taking the herbs since mid-April. – Reuters
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