Bird Flu and Chinese Medicine

By Bob Flaws, LAc, FNAAOM (USA), FRCHM (UK)

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), avian influenza is an infection caused by bird flu viruses. These influenza viruses occur naturally among birds and, although wild birds worldwide carry the viruses in their intestines, they do not usually get sick from them.

However, avian influenza is very contagious among birds and can make some domesticated birds, including chickens, ducks and turkeys, very sick and can kill them. Infected birds shed the influenza virus in their saliva, nasal secretions, and feces. Susceptible birds become infected when they come in contact with contaminated secretions or excretions or with surfaces that are contaminated with secretions or excretions from infected birds. Domesticated birds may become infected with avian influenza virus through direct contact with infected waterfowl or other infected poultry; through contact with surfaces such as dirt or cages; or materials, such as water or feed, that have been contaminated with the virus.


Infection with avian influenza viruses in domestic poultry causes two main forms of disease that are distinguished by low and high extremes of virulence. The low pathogenic form may go undetected and usually causes only mild symptoms, such as ruffled feathers and a drop in egg production. However, the highly pathogenic form spreads more rapidly through flocks of poultry. This form may cause disease that affects multiple internal organs and has a mortality rate that can reach 90 percent to 100 percent, often within 48 hours.

The risk from bird flu is generally low to most people because the viruses do not usually infect humans. However, confirmed cases of human infection from several subtypes of avian influenza infection have been reported since 1997. Most cases of avian influenza infection in humans have resulted from contact with infected poultry (i.e., domesticated chicken, ducks and turkeys) or surfaces contaminated with secretion/excretions from infected birds. The spread of avian influenza viruses from one ill person to another has been rarely reported, and transmission has not been observed to continue beyond one person.

Symptoms of avian influenza in humans have ranged from typical human influenza-like symptoms, such as fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches, to eye infections, pneumonia, severe respiratory diseases, such as acute respiratory distress, and other severe and life-threatening complications. The symptoms of bird flu may depend on which virus caused the infection. Studies done in laboratories suggest that some of the prescription medicines approved in the United States for human influenza viruses should also work in treating avian influenza infection in humans. However, influenza viruses can become resistant to these drugs. Therefore, these medications may not always work. Additional studies are needed to demonstrate the effectiveness of these medicines.1

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there have been a total of 31 cases worldwide of avian influenza and 20 deaths from Jan. 1 to March 8, 2006.2 Also as of March 8, 2006, the Ministry of Health in the People’s Republic of China had reported 10 deaths from H5N1 avian influenza in that country alone.3 Public health officials and organizations around the world remain on high alert because of increasing concerns about the prospect of an influenza pandemic which many experts believe to be inevitable. Moreover, recent problems with the availability and strain-specificity of vaccine for annual flu epidemics in some countries and the rise of pandemic strains of avian flu in disparate geographic regions have alarmed experts about the world’s ability to prevent or contain a human pandemic.4

Because Chinese medicine has a long history of treating various viral conditions successfully and because so many cases of avian influenza in humans have occurred in China, it is only natural for practitioners of Chinese medicine worldwide to ask what our medicine has to offer for the protection and treatment of this condition. On pages 441-443 of issue No. 6, 2005 of Tian Jin Zhong Yi Yao (Tianjin Chinese Medicine & Medicinals), the Tianjin Municipal Group of Experts on the Prevention and Treatment of Avian Influenza With Chinese Medicine and Medicinals published an article titled, “Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Human Infection by Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza with Chinese Medicine and Medicinals.” Therefore, below is an abstract of this article’s discussion of the treatment based on pattern discrimination of the various stages of this disease.