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COVID-19 Explanations: Epidemics According to Chinese Medicine

by Noach Nestor Bittelman, LAc


The success of any medical treatment is dependent, to a very large extent, on an accurate diagnosis. Correctly understanding the disease mechanism, how it is currently manifesting in the patient, the stages the disease is known to go through, and the strength of the patient who is engaging with the illness are all important factors which contribute to a successful medical intervention. Treatment strategies, whether they be herbal treatments, acupuncture/moxabustion, nutraceutical, pharmaceutical, or massage and other body manipulation techniques, all need to be directed towards accomplishing specific goals which have been determined by the working diagnosis.

Epidemics or pandemics are no different in this regard than any other kind of illness. In allopathic medicine epidemics are described as being caused by either a virulent bacteria or virus, and treatment is generally pointed towards eradicating the bacteria or virus. In Chinese medicine each epidemic is differentiated according to how, where, and when it manifests, and who it tends to strike. Treatment strategies are arrived at and adjusted primarily according to these factors.

An analysis of two different pandemics from a Chinese medicine perspective, the Spanish Flu of 1918-1920 and the current COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, can illustrate how each epidemic is differentiated medically and how successful treatment strategies are achieved.

The Spanish Flu of 1918

The Spanish Flu, which ran from 1918-1920, decimated huge portions of the world population, killing anywhere from the most conservative estimate of 17 million people, to upwards of 100 million people. If we choose a middle ground and go with one of the figures suggested by medical historians, 50 million people killed, we still have a pandemic of horrible consequence. (As of this writing there have been over 200,000 deaths worldwide from the COVID-19 Coronavirus, which is of course terrible, but the number pales in comparison to the destruction wrought by the Spanish Flu.)

An examination of how and when the Spanish Flu manifested and who it tended to strike will reveal to us its nature, and will point us in the direction of a working treatment strategy.

The Spanish Flu, in contrast to what we might think, did not primarily attack and strike down the weak and vulnerable populations—the elderly and the very young. The primary victims were young adults—those between the ages of 20-40 years old accounted for half of all deaths from the Spanish Flu in the United States between 1918-1919, and 99% of all deaths in the USA from that same time period occurred in people under 65 years old. This is our first diagnostic clue—the flu’s mortality was directed primarily at young people.

The timing of the Spanish Flu is also a paradox. Generally speaking, “flu season” takes place during the colder, winter months, yet the Spanish Flu was most virulent during the summer and fall months, with the second wave beginning in August and extending into the autumn. This timing i