NEW YORK, Aug 16 (Reuters) - In mild cases of HiN1 influenza, also known as swine flu, a traditional Chinese herb mixture may relieve fevers about as well as the antiviral drug Tamiflu, according to a study.
The herbal mixture used in the study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is known as maxingshigan-yinqiaosan and has a long history of use in China for colds and flue, heated and made into a beverage.
The herbs are not widely available in the west, although they are also available in countries such as Japan, Korea and Germany, said Cheng Wang and Bin Cao of the Beijing Institute of Respiratory Medicine, who led the study.
Of the 410 Chinese adults with H1N1 flu involved in the study, those who took the herb mixture typically saw their fevers resolve after 16 hours, against 26 hours in patients in a “control group” whose only flu treatment was acetaminophen if their fever passed 102 degrees F.
Patients in a third group received the prescription drug Tamiflu, known generically as oseltamivir. With Tamiflu, fevers resolved after 20 hours.
A fourth group received both the herb mix and Tamiflu, with their fevers disappearing in 15 hours.
“Oseltamivir and maxingshigan-yinqiaosan, alone and in combination, reduced time to fever resolution in patients with H1N1 influenza virus infection,” the researchers wrote.
“These data suggest that maxingshigan-yinqiaosan may be used as an alternative treatment of H1N1 influenza virus infection.”
Exactly what the results mean for flu sufferers around the world is not clear, since the study included only young and middle-aged adults, who, other than having a fairly mild case of the flu, were healthy.
In addition, Tamiflu and another antiviral drug, Relenza (zanamivir), are usually reserved for people with severe cases, or those at high risk of flu complications such as pneumonia.
The elderly and people with certain chronic health conditions, such as heart or lung disease, are among those at high risk.
“In people with severe illness, this herb may not work. We don’t know yet,” said Lixing Lao, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, who was not involved in the research.
Lao, who also directs the traditional Chinese medicine research program at the university’s Center for Integrative Medicine, said it was necessary to first study the effects of the herbs in low-risk people with mild flu cases.
The researchers said that the herbal mixture might offer a flu-fighting alternative in certain places where Tamiflu is scarce, such as rural China.
One of the mixture’s key ingredients is ephedra, or ma huang, which is banned from use in dietary supplements in the United States and Canada after ephedra in such supplements was linked to heart attacks, strokes and deaths in some users.
The ban does not apply to ephedra’s use in Chinese medicine, where small doses are mixed with other traditional herbs.
Lao warned that people in the United States would need to go to a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner for the mix, and proper use “requires some knowledge.”
Th U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends Tamiflu and Relenza for treating the flu in people who are very ill or at high risk of complications, but stresses that the best defense against the flu is flu vaccine. SOURCE: bit.ly/lKiQRq (Reporting by Amy Norton at Reuters Health; editing by Elaine Lies)