by Meenakshi Bhattacharjee
We’re at a pivotal moment in the outbreak of the new coronavirus in China, either already in a pandemic, meaning there are ongoing epidemics of the virus on two or more continents or hurtling toward one, or on the path to averting a spiraling crisis.
As of February 5, more than 24,500 people have been infected with 2019-nCoV, as the respiratory virus is known, and 494 people have died. There are also 185 cases in 25 countries besides China, including one death in the Philippines. This toll represents a tragic and stunning increase from a month ago, when it looked like there were no more than 50 patients with the virus in Wuhan, the mainland Chinese city where the virus is thought to have originated.
Given the unknowns about 2019-nCoV, in the coming days and weeks, we’re in for some twists and turns. For now, many experts believe this outbreak could get a lot worse: burdening the Chinese health system, spreading in poorer countries with weaker health systems, and sickening and killing thousands more people along the way. Alternatively, it could get much better, with new cases and deaths steadily dropping.
The infection from CoV resembles other respiratory tract infections, hence can be hard to isolate from the common flu. It spreads from respiratory fluids such as coughs and sneezes, similar to influenza and other respiratory tracts’ infections. The extent of the infection has ranged from a mild cough to severely sick and dying due to the infection. Common symptoms include cough, fever, shortness of breath (dyspnea), and occasional diarrhea.
Countries have relied heavily on Western methods to combat the virus, with hospitals employing equipment and medicine that would not be unfamiliar in the western world. Scientists in China and around the world are searching for a drug that can tackle the 2019-nCoV virus, sifting through dozens of potential candidates, including anti-HIV drugs, an anti-schizophrenia medication and an immunosuppressant.
Viral infections play an important role in human diseases, and recent outbreaks in the advent of globalization and ease of travel have underscored their prevention as a critical issue in safeguarding public health. Despite the progress made in immunization and drug development, many viruses lack preventive vaccines and efficient antiviral therapies, which are often beset by the generation of viral escape mutants. The situation is further exacerbated by the potential development of drug-resistant mutants, especially when using viral enzyme-specific inhibitors, which significantly hampers drug efficacy. Hence, there is an urgent need to discover novel antivirals that are highly efficacious and cost-effective for the management and control of viral infections when vaccines and standard therapies are lacking.
Viral Medicine search
Identifying novel antiviral drugs is of critical importance and natural products are an excellent source for such discoveries. Therefore alternative natural medications are an urgent requirement to fill the gap of unavailability of conventional therapies or vaccines. Complementary and alternative medicine has been used for centuries in many societies to treat various illnesses, including viral infections, herbal and dietary.
Herbal medicines and purified natural products provide a rich resource for novel antiviral drug development. Identification of the antiviral mechanisms from these natural agents has shed light on where they interact with the viral life cycle, such as viral entry, replication, assembly, and release, as well as on the targeting of virus–host-specific interactions.
As many viruses remain without preventive vaccines and effective antiviral treatments, eradicating these viral diseases appears difficult. Nonetheless, natural products serve as an excellent source of biodiversity for discovering novel antivirals, revealing new structure–activity relationships, and developing effective protective/therapeutic strategies against viral infections.
Coronavirus and possible natural remedies.
CoV is an enveloped, positive-sense single-stranded RNA (ssRNA) virus belonging to the Coronaviridae family. The CoV family consists of several species and causes upper respiratory tract and gastrointestinal infections in mammals and birds. In humans, it mainly causes common cold, but complications including pneumonia and SARS can occur. The known human CoV (HCoV) includes HCoV-229E, -OC43, -NL63, -HKU1, and the more widely known severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) which caused a global threat with high mortality in 2002. In 2012, the World Health Organization (WHO) designated a sixth type of HCoV infection identified as the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) which is associated with high fatality. Now 2019-nCoV in China is a pandemic.
There are no specific treatments for CoV infection and preventive vaccines are still being explored. Thus, the situation reflects the need to develop effective antivirals for prophylaxis and treatment of CoV infection. It has been previously reported that saikosaponins (A, B2, C, and D), which are naturally occurring triterpene glycosides isolated from medicinal plants such as Bupleurum spp. , Heteromorpha spp., and Scrophularia scorodonia, exert antiviral activity against HCoV-22E9. Upon co-challenge with the virus, these natural compounds effectively prevent the early stage of HCoV-22E9 infection, including viral attachment and penetration. Extracts from plants like Lycoris radiata , Artemisia annua , Pyrrosia lingua, and Lindera aggregata have also been documented to display anti–SARS-CoV effect from a screening analysis using hundreds of Chinese medicinal herbs. Natural inhibitors against the SARS-CoV enzymes, such as the nsP13 helicase and 3CL protease, have been identified as well and include myricetin, scutellarein, and phenolic compounds from Isati indigotica and Torreya nucifera . Other anti-CoV natural medicines include the water extract from the plant Houttuynia cordata , which has been observed to exhibit several antiviral mechanisms against SARS-CoV, such as inhibiting the viral 3CL protease and blocking the viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerase activity.
In traditional Chinese medicine there are a pair of formulas for pneumonia prevention that can work well with coronavirus. The recommended formulas clear away heat, detoxify, dry dampness, moisten and enhance physical immunity, The two recommended formulations include black atractylodes rhizome (used in Chinese medicine to dry dampness), along with extracts of honeysuckle (to clear inflammation), tangerine peel (to disperse phlegm), raw astragalus (to boost immune response) and several other herbs. Some homeopathic medicines are also being considered in developing countries as a preventive measure against this virus.
What can be done to protect oneself?
There is no vaccine currently available to treat novel coronavirus, but WHO is recommending several precautionary and hygienic measures.
• Avoid direct contact with people suffering from acute respiratory infections,
• Wash your hands frequently, especially after direct contact with sick people or their surroundings,
• Avoid direct contact with farm animals or wild animals, living or dead,
• People with symptoms of a severe respiratory infection should try to keep their distance from other people, and cover their nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing and use masks in crowded areas.
NB: The information in this article is entirely from scientific research publications. Do not use these remedies without talking to your doctor.