November 17, 2021
Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal (IMCJ) recently published Dr. Heidi Lovie, LAc, DACM‘s article “Gu Syndrome, Lurking Pathogens, and Long Covid: An Old Take on a New Disease”. Lovie, a clinic supervisor and faculty member at Pacific College’s New York campus, presents the uncertainty concerning long COVID: we don’t yet know which of a broad range of symptoms it may include or how to diagnose it; a duration that could run from weeks to even years; and the thus far near-total lack of treatments and guidelines for rehabilitation. Conventional medicine, although extremely successful at preventing main SARS-CoV-2 infection through both novel and traditional methods of vaccine production and a global inoculation rollout now numbering in the billions, so far has not yet made much headway with long COVID. Instead, perhaps, history may lead to better progress.
Epidemiology has a lengthy history within classical Chinese medicine. One concept Lovie has found useful in attempting to make sense of long COVID is that of gu syndromes (Gu Zheng), dating back to the 7th century, which refers to stubborn diseases that involve a broad array of debilitating symptoms–particularly in those with pre-existing conditions. Another is the work of Wu Youke, a scholar physician who treated plague victims in the 17th century, who described “lurking pathogens” as diseases that “burrow into various tissues where they can comfortably proliferate and are difficult to reach with medication or other treatment strategies”–like SARS-CoV-2, which leaves remnants in nearly every organ in the body after infection.
Many studies are already underway in China on potential TCM and herb treatments for COVID, but very few so far concerning long COVID. Lovie concludes: “as more patients move into the post-infection phase with long COVID symptoms, we can take a page from the gu syndrome and lurking pathogen playbooks. Treatment time will be long. Treatment strategies will need to be individualized. Treatment methods will need to be varied so lurking pathogens are less likely to adapt.” Integrative medicine could help significantly in handling the ongoing aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic.