- Omicron is not common cold or flu
- The most common Omicron symptoms
- The prevailing symptoms at each stage
- TCM’s role in treating Covid
- Medicine should be prescribed according to the body constitution and the symptoms
- Can I take Traditional Chinese medicine if someone in my household is covid-positive?
Omicron is not common cold or flu
Omicron can be efficiently transmitted between people. It overtakes all other covid variants in terms of circulation and spreading. We have observed surges in different countries in the past months including the UK, Denmark, Australia and South Africa. The same as what happened in other countries and cities, we are now seeing a Hong Kong omicron outbreak as cases in the past weeks continue to increase.
People who are infected with omicron have the full spectrum of disease, everything from asymptomatic infection all the way through severe diseases and death. A lot of people who have omicron experience cold or flu-like symptoms, but the World Health Organization keeps reminding us that it is not a mild disease and we should not treat it as a common cold or influenza. 
It is crucial to know what are the most common omicron symptoms as the rapid test may not show positive until 3 days after you are infected with the virus. If intervention could take place at an early stage, the omicron symptoms may be moderated. From a Chinese medicine point of view, if we start using medicine to rebalance the patient’s internal environment at this stage, it will enhance the immunity system and will help defeat the virus or reduce the viral load.
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The most common Omicron symptoms
According to the CDC, omicron symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus. Common symptoms include:
- Fever or chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Muscle or body aches
- New loss of taste or smell
- Sore throat
- Congestion or runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
The prevailing symptoms at each stage
In actual clinical practice, we found that the early symptoms of omicron covid 19 are very similar to influenza or upper respiratory tract infection. Sore throat is the 1st sign in a lot of cases, followed by congestion, body ache and headache. A relative small portion of patients also suffer from classic covid symptoms like fever or short of breath. When the disease progresses, fatigue, cough and phlegm will become the most dominating symptoms. Quite a lot of times, the conditions will linger even after the rapid test turns negative.
TCM’s Role in Treating Covid
Traditional Chinese Medicine has more than 2000 years’ history of preventing and treating infectious diseases. At the onset of the Covid pandemic, the China government has actively integrated Chinese medicine including over-the-counter TCM drugs in preventing, treating and rehabilitating the covid patient. In the clinical studies done during this period, evidence has been established that prescribed Chinese medicine decoction and over-the-counter herbal drugs are effective in helping the patients recover from covid infection.
The most studied over-the-counter drugs include Lianhua Qingwen Capsule (連花清瘟膠囊) and Huoxiang Zhengqi Wan (藿香正氣丸). The use of these drugs showed advantages in the treatment of fever, sore throat, nausea, vomiting, and sore limbs. The medications also delay the progression of the disease and reduce the all-cause mortality.
On Feb 24, 2022, as the omicron covid 19 cases in Hong Kong continues to surge, the Food & Health Bureau of HK announced that the first batch of Chinese medicines including Lianhua Qingwen Capsule (連花清瘟膠囊) donated by the Mainland will be distributed in phases to people under isolation. Meantime “Huoxiang Zhengqi” (藿香正氣丸), will arrive Hong Kong in phases. These drugs are recommended in the Mainland’s Diagnosis & Treatment Protocols for Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia. Under Chinese medicine practitioners’ clinical guidance, they could be used during the stage of medical surveillance, as well as the treatment for patients with mild and common symptoms. HK hospital authority has also implemented the Special Chinese Medicine Out-Patient Programme and the Special Chinese Medicine Programme for COVID-19 In-Patients to provide rehabilitation service and treatment. 
In actual clinical practice, we have the experience of supporting a couple of UK clients who suffered from delta variant and omicron variant in the past year. With just the use of the above 2 over-the-counter drugs, we got and saw promising results. As the distance won’t allow us to send them prescribed TCM medicine, we could only monitor their conditions through online consultation and suggest the dosage and combination of the 2 over-the-counter drugs. On top of that, we also provided information to optimize their nutritional intake so as to minimize the symptoms and boost their immunity.
Medicine should be prescribed according to the body constitution and the symptoms
Using over-the-counter TCM drugs to treat COVID symptoms, however, is definitely not the best solution. Even with proper guidance from a TCM practitioner, the over-the-counter drug is not prescribed to the individual’s needs and body constitution. If used without guidance, it can also cause harm to the patient.
Omicron is a highly contagious disease as we have seen in the Hong Kong omicron outbreak and other places around the world too. Our daily life has already been greatly interrupted by the missing workforce and an overloading healthcare system. Shortening the infected days and reducing the symptoms of the infected person should be our primary objective and this will take precise personalized prescription to achieve this.
People who are infected by omicron can have very different manifestations of symptoms, depending on their age, health status and body constitutions. Some common symptoms like sore throat and headache could also have different underlying reasons. Incorrect interpretation of the conditions, like treating a cold syndrome as a heated syndrome, will lead to wrong treatment and worsen the symptoms.
In the online consultation setting, TCM practitioners will examine your tongue and gather data through your energy showing on your face, voice, bodily sounds, and complexion. Together with asking questions about your symptoms and lifestyle change (including sleeping pattern, appetite and bowel movement), a proper diagnosis will be made, and followed by personalized prescribed TCM herbal medicine.
As the symptoms suffered by patients infected by omicron change quite fast, we normally will only prescribe Chinese medicine for covid for 3 days, and then follow up with another consultation. The patient who has received our treatment turns negative on an average of 6-7 days, but most symptoms normally subside by day 5 after 1st positive test. For patients of advanced age and compromised immunity, it will take longer.
Can I Take Traditional Chinese Medicine If Someone In My Household Is Covid-Positive?
Currently, the HK government still would need the close contacts who have received at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccines to be self-home quarantined for 7 days. During this period, you may probably stay with the infected person under the same premises. Apart from practicing distancing yourself from the infected person, (e.g. confining the infected person in his own bedroom, using a different washroom and not eating together), you may also take Chinese medicine for covid prevention. In our clinical observation, not every close contact who stays in the same household of a covid patient could refrain from contracting the virus after taking the preventive medicine, however, their symptoms will normally be lighter if they eventually tested positive. Traditional Chinese Medicine for covid again would be prescribed according to your conditions and body constitution, and the ultimate goal is to balance your yin and yang and optimize your immune system.
Amidst the covid 19 omicron Hong Kong surge, the saying “prevention is better than cure” still stands out. In a recent video produced by WHO, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove have highlighted at least 4 reasons why we need to prevent ourselves from getting omicron:
- There is a risk that you can develop severe disease, especially for those who have underlying conditions, advanced age, or not fully vaccinated.
- We don’t completely understand the impact of post-COVID condition or long COVID. People who are infected with this virus have a risk of developing longer term consequences.
- The large number of omicron cases, will not only burden our health system, but also compromise the normal operation of our society, like what we are seeing now, including delay of delivery for online shopping, limit the frequency of public transportation, etc
- The more this virus circulates, the more opportunities it has to change. No one can predict what the next variant will be like
Traditional Chinese Medicine is also effective to boost our immunity and protect us from the virus. During the present epidemic, patients can use medicated soups to rebalance the body condition and further strengthen their health.
Omicron and other covid variants may still arise in the coming months. What matters is the knowledge and confidence that Traditional Chinese Medicine is here to help us effectively and successfully fight off and beat the covid virus.
 An X, Zhang Y, Duan L, Jin D, Zhao S, Zhou R, Duan Y, Lian F, Tong X. The direct evidence and mechanism of traditional Chinese medicine treatment of COVID-19. Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy. 2021 May 1;137:111267.
 News.gov.hk. Chinese medicine helps virus effort. 2022 Feb 24.