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Do Herbal Remedies Help Combat SARS?

Aired May 20, 2003 - 20:29   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson says the threat of SARS is not likely to go away any time soon. In fact, in Brussels today, Secretary Thompson warned that even though SARS might be leveling off now, it could re-appear in Europe and North America next flu season with deadly effects then.
As far as SARS' current impact, China, Hong Kong and Singapore, the hardest hit, and the outbreak has devastated businesses in Chinese communities across the U.S.

Thelma Gutierrez tonight went to L.A.'s Chinatown, where she found some vendors there are seeing huge increases in business because of SARS. Here's Thelma.


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the shadow of downtown Los Angeles, many businesses in Chinatown are feeling the economic sting of SARS an ocean away.

But not here. In the Chinese herbal stores, where gnarled root, dried seahorse, fish stomach and deer tendon are sold for medicinal purposes, business is booming.

Top sellers: A myriad of dried herbs and teas said to boost your immune system and ward off SARS.

A list of the herbs and a recipe for tea has been printed at newspapers across China and is handed out in stores like Wing Hop Fung.

(on camera): One of the main ingredients in the herbal recipe is common honeysuckle. Right now in China, it's worth more than gold because of the SARS outbreak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before like $3 per pound, right now we can say like $400 U.S. per pound.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Dayton Ong reports a 200 percent increase in sales in herbs these customers believe can help protect them against SARS. Though the CDC and World Health Organization have repeatedly said there is no known cure or treatment for SARS.

DAYTON ONG, OWNER, WING HOP FUNG: Chinese people, they are four, five, six generations, they are using herbs.

DONNA FUNG, CUSTOMER: Oh, my God, this is number one good (ph) for your health.

GUTIERREZ: Mr. Ong's customers say they are not thinking of cure for SARS, but rather prevention, a deeply rooted belief in the Asian culture that has crossed over.

MARK JANSEN, CUSTOMER: If I have a choice between, let's say, existing medicine with a proven track record that would boost my immune system or could prevent it, or just take the whatever ginsengs or teas, I think I would go for the sure shot and take proven medication.

Other than that...

GUTIERREZ (on camera): But because there is no proven medication at this time...

JANSEN: You might as well try anything.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Federal watchdogs warn consumers there's no evidence that herbal remedies prevent SARS, and recently cracked down on Internet sites with bogus ads.

HEATHER HIPPSLEY, FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION, DIVISION OF AD PRACTICES: If an herbal remedy is claiming to make you feel better or treat mild symptoms, that's one thing, but for an herbal remedy to claim to cure or treat a virus such as SARS when there's still so little known about it is what we're worried about.

GUTIERREZ: Donna Fung says the products she buys make no specific claims about SARS, and with so many people buying natural remedies for diabetes, high blood pressure and other ailments, she says SARS is just one more reason to drink certain teas to help your immune system.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Los Angeles.


HEMMER: And again, just to reiterate, as Thelma made clear in her story, health experts say there is no known cure for SARS, but can alternative remedies boost your immune system enough to protect you from SARS? For more on that, Dr. Sanjay Gupta has been looking into it. Good evening again to you. Do you buy into that or not?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me tell you, you know, talking about dried seahorse and gnarled roots probably not going to be the answer combating SARS. But having said that, Bill, there's 4,000 to 5,000 years of anecdotal evidence in the very country where SARS is hardest hitting, that's China, 4,000 to 5,000 years of anecdotal data saying some of these things may work. As one of the gentlemen pointed out in Thelma's piece, probably not going to hurt you, may help. No evidence of that as of yet.

HEMMER: And there is talk about a vaccine possibly in development right now that may or may not be on the fast track. Are there ways to prevent it? Can you treat SARS right now? What are you finding out?

GUPTA: Vaccine is still a while away, probably, even treatments, very simply sort of processes, a lot of existing anti-virals out there. They're simply going through the process to see if any of those anti-virals actually work against SARS.

In the meantime, though, Bill, common sense, really. There's travel advisories out there. You probably want to stay out of the countries hardest hit by SARS, unless you have to go there. Frequent hand washing, how many times have we talked about frequent hand washing, this simple measure, which a lot of people don't do still, can help prevent SARS. Avoid touching your eye, nose and mouth. Sneezing. All that sort of stuff. A mask, in some of these countries we've seen that as well, may be important, but here in this country, we've seen a lot of cases, but no deaths as of yet.

HEMMER: What do we talk about more, washing hands or the flu vaccine?

GUPTA: With you the flu vaccine, because you never got one, I don't think.

HEMMER: No, you're right. Thanks, Sanjay. See you in the morning, all right?

GUPTA: Yes, I'll be back.


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