MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

It has been reported that the coronavirus outbreak might have spread from bats to humans via pangolins, the scaly mammal prized in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The pangolin is protected by law, yet it is one of Asia’s most trafficked mammals, not least because its scales and meat are used in TCM. “This latest discovery will be of great significance for the prevention and control of the origin (of the virus),” South China Agricultural University, which led the research, stated.

All pangolin species (Manis spp.) have been included in CITES Appendix II since 1975 and a “zero quota” has been in place since 2000 for trade in the Asian pangolin species: M.crassicaudata, M. pentadactyla, M. javanica and M. culionensis. This effectively bans all international commercial trade of Asian pangolins.  Despite the trade restrictions, more than a million pangolins (including Asian and African species) have been poached and illegally traded globally over the past decade to satisfy demand from consumers in Asia, particularly in China.

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The Effect of Pangolin Scales

Property

Salty, slightly cold; liver and stomach meridians entered.

Actions

Activate blood and dispel stasis, dredge meridians and promote lactation, resolve swelling and expel pus.

Indications

Mass, amenorrhea due to stasis, wind-damp arthralgia, lactation blockage, abscess, swelling and sore, scrofula.

Dosage and Administrations

Decoct 3~10 g. Make powder and take 1~1.5 g.

Cautions

Use with cautions for the pregnant women.

____________________________________________________________________

Experts think the coronavirus outbreak may have originated in bats and then passed to humans, possibly via pangolins. The genome sequence of the novel coronavirus strain separated from pangolins was 99% identical to that from infected people, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported. The research concluded that pangolins to be “the most likely intermediate host.” But Dirk Pfeiffer, professor of veterinary medicine at Hong Kong’s City University, cautioned that the study was a long way from proving pangolins had transmitted the virus. “You can only draw more definitive conclusions, if you compare prevalence (of the coronavirus) between different species based on representative samples, which these almost certainly are not,” he said.

35 Responses to Coronavirus: did it spread with the help of Traditional Chinese Medicine?

  • My apologies for sidetracking the actual topic, but my eye was caught by this phrase, alas applicable to numerous other species of animals and plants as well:

    Despite the trade restrictions, more than a million pangolins (including Asian and African species) have been poached and illegally traded globally over the past decade to satisfy demand from consumers in Asia, particularly in China

    This once again strongly illustrates the power of human (mis)information: even though there is zero evidence that pangolin scales have any medicinal effects whatsoever, people will keep adhering to this ‘traditional wisdom’, believing that their health will benefit from using it – with complete disregard for the many negative effects. And in fact, these negative effects are greater than ‘just’ the risk of extinction of all those animals – most of these will even affect the users of this quackery themselves:
    – Taking useless medicines, especially for serious conditions causes serious harm in several ways, among others by delaying or even foregoing more effective treatments.
    – Any money spent on quackery like this is lost and can’t be spent any more on more useful treatments.
    – And when a species becomes rare or nears extinction, a devastating negative spiral sets in: prices go up, the remaining animals or plants will be hunted down even more fiercely – and because of a very human trait, these ‘medicines’ become even more popular, because something so expensive must of course be good, now mustn’t it? (And even mounted specimens are stolen or savaged for a quick buck.)
    – And in the end, when a species is extinct, those fervent buyers of these highly prized ‘medicines’ will have deprived themselves of their favourite medicine, probably after being scammed for a while with fake substances. After all, it is probably hard to tell the difference between pangolin scales, rhino horn or simple cow hoof when it’s ground up – it’s basically all keratin.

    The best solution that I see is to educate people, not just about effective medicine, but also about what isn’t effective and why. And this is one important raison d’être of this blog: it is vitally important(*) to counter those myths and misinformation spread by quacks and other denizens of the alternative universe, no matter if they seem harmless enough at first glance.
    And yes, this also entails fighting the proponents of ‘traditional medicine’, because these people keep those stupid myths alive and pass them on to new generations of believers. The greater audience should be made aware that these people have no actual knowledge or skills with regard to sickness and healing.

    *: If only for pangolins, rhinoceroses and countless other wonderful living species that grace our earth.

  • – and proper universities accept huge sums to have this noxious nonsense taught and accepted!

    This article has some interesting things to say about our lethal behaviour: https://climateandcapitalism.com/2020/01/29/coronavirus-a-deadly-result/?fbclid=IwAR1LgzrrguHYyAc9WxyaQ4sN_c8WGoHrQsd3TK4WrvWs1OUy8Snot5_e2Xc

    • and proper universities accept huge sums to have this noxious nonsense taught and accepted!

      In this respect, I see one glimmer of hope on the horizon, even though it is based on China’s less savoury traditions of authoritarianism and above all ruthless revisionism: if the notion that this crisis is largely caused by their very own traditional medicine becomes widespread enough in higher echelons, Chinese authorities may suddenly decide to abolish (part of) this tradition, and henceforth simply deny that it ever was a viable tradition, while silencing protests and dissenting voices.

      After all, the viability of TCM was established and promulgated in quite the same manner by Mao in the 1950’s to begin with …

      • I fear that this is not realistic; TCM is a hugely important export for the PRC.

        • Yes, you have a point – and I don’t think either that TCM as a whole will be abolished any day soon.

          But the the way that their international trade is already affected by the current crisis is not to be sneezed at (pun intended), and may lead to at least a permanent ban on animal-based TCM products – which probably aren’t all that important from an export point of view anyway.
          Even I myself was forced to go shopping elsewhere for a batch of electronic circuit boards, as my usual Chinese supplier could not handle any new orders at the moment. They even had serious trouble shipping out already completed orders because many couriers suspended their overseas freight services for at least another six or ten days to come.

          Certainly, eventually this crisis will resolve, and trading will be resumed, but the current situation is still unprecedented, and will no doubt at least raise some eyebrows among both China’s officials and their customers (i.e. the rest of the world). Let’s hope that sensible lessons will be learned here.

          • The idea that you are even talking about abolishing other peoples medicine is fascist …. at the very root.

          • glad to hear that your ignorance even extends to the term fascist

          • @RG

            Which species of animal are you happy to see rendered extinct in order to satisfy the demands of a market which believes – wrongly – that their body-parts are cures for their ills?

            Or do you, for example, support the notion that rhino horn is effective for impotence?

            By your warped sense of values, nasty fascist Big Pharma would presumably be terrible and evil to promote Viagra and Cialis in China as effective remedies for the problem.

            TCM is nonsense, RG. Dangerous nonsense.

          • @EE

            That’s OK professor if you hold a different definition of the term, the current meaning has become somewhat muddled…. even perhaps by myself. Many would define fascism in different terms today.

            You can choose your own word to define forcing free people to do, or not to do something as simple as self-therapy against their will, and their conscience.

            Call it want you want…. its’ wrong.

          • @Lenny

            You want to use a broad brush to paint me into a group that supports a practice that I’ve never opined on here before ? Are you THAT desperate to prove me wrong ?

            Equally, you want to paint TCM as a therapy that supports or promotes using Rhino horn as a human sexual therapy. A portion of Chinese culture MAY fit into that group. However, to paint the entire Chinese population with that broad brush is wrong. Beyond that, TCM has NEVER promoted Rhino horn as a therapy for impotence, or an aphrodisiac.
            Get your facts straight…. Lenny.

            Sorry pal, you would be better off not responding.
            “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than open it and remove all doubt”

          • RG, Lenny,

            The following is from Scientific American, April 2017:

            Historically, traditional Chinese medicine has mixed rhino horn with other natural ingredients for treating fever or relieving the symptoms of arthritis and gout. The list of historical uses also includes: headaches, hallucinations, high blood pressure, typhoid, snakebite, food poisoning and even possession by spirits. “Every historical documented use of rhino horn in traditional Chinese medicine was for treating conditions such as fever and infection,” says Lixin Huang, president of the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. “It was never used for improving male sexual function or for curing cancer.”

            This, of course, in no way alters any of the arguments against TCM.

  • Maybe the coronavirus was spread in this manner, but the virus was manipulated and presumably made more aggressive in a lab. Lets put the primary blame where it belongs. How many centuries has Chinese Medicine used the pangolin?

    • any evidence or is it your paranoia speaking?

    • but the virus was manipulated and presumably made more aggressive in a lab

      Garbage, Roger. Paranoid garbage. Support your nonsense with evidence. Oh. You can’t. Run along, now.

      How many centuries has Chinese Medicine used the pangolin?

      Ah, the argumentum ad antiquitatem fallacy gets dragged out. Come on, Roger. You can do better than this.

      Oh. No. Once again, you can’t, can you.

      • I am beginning to wonder whether Roger is paid to give SCAM and its proponents a bad name.

        • alternatively, he could be a complete fruitcake; I see no other explanation.

          • I think that Roger and RG are trolls, and they’re not even good at it. Their rather dim comments provoke mild annoyance at most, and half the time, they’re shooting themselves in the foot.
            Maybe they take Ammunition C30 to heal themselves every time this happens? Otherwise they soon wouldn’t have a leg to stand on (oh, wait …)

          • Richard,

            I think Roger might be a troll. He hasn’t said anything sensible, ever.

            RG, on the other hand, is consistent and I think what he says are genuinely held beliefs and grievances. He has let us know a few things about his own experiences with healthcare in the US, which haven’t been very good. Some of that, I think, comes from being disillusioned after unrealistic expectations (which, in all fairness, many people hold), and much from the failings of the bizarre healthcare system in the US, which puts profit above patient welfare and is forced to practice defensive medicine due to the high risk of litigation. Unfortunately when he does supply evidence to support his views it tends to be rather patchy, and he gives the impression that he hasn’t read much of it very carefully.

          • @Dr. JMK

            I beg to differ doc, I at least part troll.
            However, you are correct, I am sincere.

            “unrealistic expectations” …. not

      • Ok, Lenny, you fool. Check this out.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTddXYOkcL4&feature=youtu.be
        Amazing to me that SS (so-called skeptics) will swallow, govt propaganda so blithely unquestioned.

        • Oh, Roger. You demonstrate only your paranoid stupidity. Proof by YouTube is no proof. Did you possibly try to check the scientific credentials of Francis Boyle? I’ll save you the effort. None. Zip. Nil. Nada. He’s a lawyer. Does anyone with any background in virology who actually knows what they’re going on about share Boyle’s opinion? Ooh. That’ll be a big “no”, then.

          Amazing to me that tinfoil-hatters like you will credulously accept the unevidenced opinions of a fringe lunatic.

          Run along now, Roger.

        • Oh Roger, you fool … you are quoting one single, unconfirmed video report from an obscure bunch of conspiracy loons, in turn quoted by a ‘batshit insane’ financial blog, in turn spread by notorious panic mongers such as Alex Jones and Mike Adams, among others. And by you …

          Maybe it is time you had the following tattooed on your forehead: “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate”

          • Maybe it is time you had the following tattooed on your forehead: “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate”

            I suppose that would make a change from what one of my patients had tattooed across his forehead, which was a dotted line labelled “cut here”. He was a diabetic in his 20’s who was so badly controlled that he already had long-term complications, including peripheral neuropathy; we had to send him to have one of his feet amputated because he had spent a day wearing new shoes that were too small, cutting of the blood supply and leading to gangrene. As another member of the team said: “His intelligence is written in his face” (or tattooed).

            Not that neurosurgeons are likely to heed these warnings…

          • @Richard Rasker & Lenny

            OK, let’s get off the Youtube banter and find another source.

            Now a US senator has make an assumption.
            “”Of the original 40 cases, 14 of them had no contact with the seafood market, including patient zero,” Cotton said. “I would note that Wuhan also has China’s only bio-safety level four ‘superlaboratory’ that works with the world’s most deadly pathogens to include, yes, coronavirus.”

            Cotton was referring to China’s first Biosafety Level 4 lab, the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which investigates “the most dangerous pathogens,” according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

            While Cotton qualified his remarks by saying “we still don’t know where” the virus originated, his comments come amid numerous conspiracy theories about the virus’s origins — including one that says the virus “originated in lab linked to China’s biowarfare program.”

            https://www.businessinsider.com/tom-cotton-coronavirus-come-from-chinese-super-laboratory-2020-2

            A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman did not deny the claim.

          • @RG
            Oh dear … OK, let’s play along once more. From your link:
            “Republican senator suggests ‘worse than Chernobyl’ coronavirus could’ve come from Chinese ‘superlaboratory’
            Republican Sen. Tom Cotton suggested that Chinese officials misled the public on the origins of the novel coronavirus from Wuhan, China, saying it may have originated in a “superlaboratory.” ” (emphasis added)

            So what we have here is yet another example of a fully unwarranted and unconfirmed conspiracy theory. And even the man himself admits this in so many words:
            “Cotton qualified his remarks by saying “we still don’t know where” the virus originated, but his comments come amid numerous conspiracy theories on its origins…”

            And apparently you believe this because, in your words, “A Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman did not deny the claim.”
            Which is where you shoot yourself in the foot once again, because a) contrary to what you try to suggest, the article does NOT mention this anywhere – you made this up yourself, and b) if Chinese officials would go round addressing each and every conspiracy theory out there, they would not have any time left to actually do something about the virus outbreak.

            I hoop your foot feels better soon; maybe you could stick it in your mouth for faster healing. Oh, I see you got it there already. Well done.

          • RG,

            In 2007 there was an outbreak of foot and mouth disease caused by the accidental release of viruses from a lab in Pirbright (Surrey, UK); indeed somebody I know lost a herd of rare-breed cattle as a result. It seems that the virus got out through the drains. However, this was not a Level 4 containment lab, or even Level 3.

            I have no idea what might be going on in the biosafety lab in Wuhan, but if they have been modifying coronaviruses as part of a weapons programme then all involved would keep very quiet about it indeed, so any rumours will be based on pure speculation, not facts. Also it seems unlikely to me that they would shoot themselves so spectacularly in the foot.

            Nearly all of the major serious diseases that have afflicted humanity came from animals originally and spread through close contact, usually as a result of domestication. Measles is thought to have come from rinderpest in cattle, flu from birds, HIV from primates, and there are many others that can affect humans and animals alike (rabies, TB, E.coli, Campylobacter, Chlamydia, toxoplasmosis, Toxocara…). Common practices in China where animals (wild and domestic) have close contact with humans are ideal for encouraging pathogens to jump to a new host.

            In nearly every problem, the mundane explanation turns out to be correct.

          • Richard Rasker,

            “Republican senator suggests ‘worse than Chernobyl’ coronavirus could’ve come from Chinese ‘superlaboratory’

            While that doesn’t seem very likely to me, either, I should point out that the new coronavirus has already killed more people than Chernobyl ever did.

  • @ Richard Rasker

    My point is posting the link to the US Senator was not to attempt to prove yeah or nay to the Youtube link posted by Roger.
    You found issue with using Youtube as a reliable source to make such a claim. So I provided you with a different reliable source that also found issue with the Chinese position on the possible source of the super-virus.

    The statement that a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman did not deny the claim, was from another source than the link I posted.

    One thing we do know is that super-viruses have previously been intentionally created in laboratories, and the super-viruses have escaped. Is it so crazy to speculate when the known origin has not been verified ?

    • Is it so crazy to speculate when the known origin has not been verified ?

      Dumb people speculate and come up with all sorts of conspiracy theories.
      Smart people wait until they have more information before making definite claims – claims that can be supported with facts and evidence.

      If you disagree, then tell me: what advantages does speculation offer over simply saying “We don’t know”?
      In my opinion, speculation has only drawbacks – it leads to unfounded or plain false accusations, people believing the wrong ideas, or getting worked up over nothing (or over the wrong things), and possibly even panic, if lives are at stake such as in this case.

    • And oh:

      The statement that a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman did not deny the claim, was from another source than the link I posted

      Yes, and I think I know the source(*) – the one found at the lower part of your back. Because I can’t find any sources on record where a Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman mentioned conspiracy stories in any way, and (perhaps more telling) you didn’t provide a link to any such source either.

      (And this apart from the fact that you can say this about literally anyone who hasn’t explicitly spoken out about the subject. IOW: you are being your fold foolish self again.)

      *: This is of course dumb speculation on my behalf – now look what you made me do!

  • One thing we do know is that super-viruses have previously been intentionally created in laboratories, and the super-viruses have escaped.

    I am aware of instances where biological weapons have been used, by states and by terrorists, and disease outbreaks resulting from somewhat reckless experiments investigating the dispersal of biological material, as well as inadvertent release into the environment of hazardous material of all kinds. However, I have never heard of an “intentionally created super-virus” escaping from a weapons research laboratory. Can you enlighten us regarding the incident(s) to which you are referring?

  • @ Dr. JMK

    Weapons laboratories ? … not that we know. Other labs …. yes.

    Doc, I did not specify a weapons facility. The Youtube link did, the link I posted w/regard to US Senator Cotton did not.
    What he did say was this;

    “Of the original 40 cases, 14 of them had no contact with the seafood market, including patient zero,” Cotton said. “I would note that Wuhan also has China’s only bio-safety level four ‘superlaboratory’ that works with the world’s most deadly pathogens to include, yes, coronavirus.”

    “Cotton was referring to China’s first Biosafety Level 4 lab, the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, which investigates “the most dangerous pathogens,” according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    While Cotton qualified his remarks by saying “we still don’t know where” the virus originated, his comments come amid numerous conspiracy theories about the virus’s origins — including one that says the virus “originated in lab linked to China’s biowarfare program.”

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