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From the Townsend Letter,
the Examiner of Alternative Medicine
May 2006

Letter to the Editor
My Encounter with the "Bug"

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Editor's Note: An accurate diagnosis of SARS may only determined through testing. However, the information contained in the following letter includes an informative list of palliative measures that SARS patients — and anyone suffering from a bad flu — will find of great value.

First, a Bit About Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)
Beginning in November 2002, the world was faced with a new infectious epidemic disease, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). SARS first surfaced in Guandong Province, China and spread from there to other parts of Asia and beyond. Both SARS patients and those exposed to them were quarantined. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), before the outbreak was over, more than 8,000 people had been diagnosed with SARS, and 774 people had died.

In May 2003, the World Health Organization published a case definition of SARS, based on what was known at that time: someone presenting after 11/1/02 with high fever (greater than 380 C/100.40F) and cough or breathing difficulty, who either had come in close contact with someone with suspected or probable SARS or had traveled to or lived in an area with recent local transmission of SARS (WHO, 5/1/03).

The symptoms listed by the Centers for Disease Control later that year included dry, non-productive cough and high fever, sometimes with chills, headache, malaise, body aches, diarrhea, with most patients developing pneumonia (CDC). SARS patients generally did not have runny noses or sore throats (Tsang). In one Chinese hospital, some patients developed Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, and several of those died of Multiple Organ Dysfunction Syndrome (Xiao). The disease tended to be less severe in children than in adults (Low). Persons aged 65 and over, like myself, and those with diabetes or other adverse health conditions, were more likely to die of SARS (Berger). Among those at particular risk of becoming infected appeared to be airline passengers and crews, hospital personnel, and persons living in areas with local SARS transmission.

The causative agent was eventually discovered to be a new coronavirus, and several diagnostic laboratory tests are now available (COO). The virus is known to be spread by respiratory droplets over a distance of a few feet, and airborne spread is considered to be possible (CDC). The virus is stable in urine and feces at room temperature for at least one to two days (WHO, 5/4/03) and can survive up to 48 hours on plastic surfaces (Berger). Hundreds in a Hong Kong apartment building were infected when minute fecal particles became airborne via an exhaust fan in a defective plumbing system (King; Stein, 4/18/03). Airline passengers have become ill when traveling with a person ill with SARS (Beveridge; Stein 5/20/03). More than 50 staff and patients were infected throughout three floors of a Chinese hospital served by the same air conditioning system (Zhao).
Standard medical treatments used, with varied success, included antivirals, corticosteroids, and oxygen supplementation (Berger). Some Chinese hospitals added Traditional Chinese Medicine materials and methods to the standard medical treatments to relieve symptoms and to improve "recovery of peripheral hemolyrnphatic cells." These hospitals reported lower death rates and shortened hospital stays (Lin).

As of this writing, a number of questions about SARS remain, including the following:

  • Why did some exposed persons with antibodies to the SARS virus (such as a hospital nurse) never develop symptoms of SARS? (New Scientist).
  • Can those who have had SARS relapse?
  • Do SARS antibodies protect against infection with the SARS virus?
  • Is there an animal reservoir for the SARS virus (perhaps the Chinese wild civet cat, which is known to carry a similar virus)?
  • Will SARS epidemics recur?
  • Since coronaviruses tend to mutate easily (Berger), could a new SARS epidemic occur due to a variant virus, and if so, would antibodies acquired during the first epidemic provide any protection against the new SARS virus variant?
  • Can SARS be transmitted through blood transfusions?
  • Noting that children tend to become less ill with SARS than adults, especially elderly people, and remembering my own experience of aches experienced in bone and lymphatic areas, I wonder if the SARS virus in some way contributes to mobilization of stored bodily toxins.

My Encounter with the "Bug"
One afternoon in late April 2003, I boarded a bus in downtown Seattle. It had been a busy week, and I was feeling tired and run down. There were about a dozen people on the bus. One woman about three seats ahead of me was small in stature, apparently young. She was slumped down in her seat, and I could not see her face. In a deep bass voice, she was coughing – dry, hacking spasms of coughing interrupted only when she gasped for breath. I immediately pulled the collar of my turtleneck shirt over my nose and mouth, hoping to avoid catching whatever it was she had. A few stops later she got off the bus, and after about five minutes, I took my nose out of my collar.

The next day I noticed a faint but constant tickle in my throat, but no other symptoms. However, late that evening, I became aware I was beginning to run a fever which seemed to go from normal to "burning up" within less than half an hour. (I couldn't find my thermometer to see how high it went.) I went to bed right away. When I awoke the next morning, I had a deep bass voice (like the woman on the bus), a dry spasmodic cough, but no other apparent respiratory symptoms. I called in sick to my job, ordered home delivery from a kindly neighborhood grocer, and imposed a quarantine on myself. There was no way to get to a doctor without risking infecting others, and there didn't seem to be either a definitive diagnostic test or effective treatment for SARS, so I decided to try and fight it out with home remedies. (Based on the evidence, I was assuming I probably had SARS.)

I was ill for about three weeks, and much of that time was a big blur. I was sleeping 18 hours a day. At the height of the ordeal, I was weak, somewhat groggy, and for about five days, I wasn't sure whether I was going to live. When I breathed, I sounded like a broken accordion. I don't know how many days the fever lasted. At the end of the illness, I was weak, tired easily, and ten pounds lighter; my lungs felt like two soggy loaves of bread inside my chest.

My Notes on Treating the "Bug"
During the course of the illness, I kept notes on what helped and what didn't, in case it might later be of some help to anyone else with the same bug. I am aware of course that I did not have a formal diagnosis of SARS, and that both the symptoms and effective helping measures could differ from one person to another. With that said, below is a summary of my informal notes.

Rest. As I mentioned, I needed about 18 hours of sleep a day. I found that lying on my back increased the discomfort in my lungs, and I felt that it could lead to serious worsening of whatever was going on in my lungs. The apparent toxins circulating in my body's fluids, particularly in the scant but sticky mucus in my throat (which I couldn't seem to cough up), seemed to be pretty caustic. Lying on my back allowed this stuff to accumulate in my throat with the risk of aspiration into my lungs as I breathed. I therefore lay on my left side with my nose pointed downward, which seemed to help (and I figured it would also help my liver drain toxins more easily – something I learned from a yoga class many years ago).

Aches and fever. The sore and feverish areas seemed to coincide, at least in part, with the lymphatics. I rubbed an herbal, topical, anti-infective/anti-inflammatory salve into the sore areas a couple of times a day until a day or so after the soreness had gone. (The oil in the salve, plus energetic rubbing, helps some of the salve's active ingredients to absorb through the skin.)*

Bone and tooth sensitivity. It appeared that circulating toxins were stressing the body's calcium/magnesium reserves to some extent, resulting in tooth sensitivity and bone pain. (I was aware that the toxins might not have all been virus-related, but may have also been mobilized from tissue storage.) To alleviate this problem, I took 600 mg/calcium carbonate and 250 mg/magnesium oxide together on an as-needed basis.

Heat. Breathing in heated air from an electric stove for about ten minutes at a time helped soothe the respiratory tract. While a full-body sauna would probably have been even more helpful, use of a public sauna would have presented a public health problem.

Neurological stress. These symptoms included difficulty in balancing when standing or walking, increased sensitivity of eyes to light, dimness of vision, heightened sensitivity of hearing. (Again, I am aware that some of these problems might not have been related entirely to viral toxins.) I felt that clearing my system of toxins might reduce or eliminate these problems, I found drinking plenty of fresh water helpful. Use of the salve mentioned above helped speed the process, as did plenty of rest. The vision problems were helped by topical application of "natural" vitamins A and E in a base of coconut oil applied to the skin around the eyes (but being careful not to get it in the eyes).

Possible vitamin Bl2 deficiency. My fingernails got very pale, a sign that I attributed to possible vitamin B12 deficiency. I was aware that the problems I was having with balance might also be linked to such a deficiency. I dissolved a small piece of a vitamin B12 tablet under my tongue, which, in a relatively short time (24 hours), restored my fingernails to their original color, and I noticed too that my balance seemed to have improved.

Clearing respiratory tract of mucus. The amount of mucus (particularly in the bronchial area) differed in amount, color, and caustic qualities, depending on the stage of the illness. At first, it was relatively scant and very corrosive. As the illness progressed, the amount of mucus increased a bit and acquired a greenish tint. Using a warm solution of salt (HCl) and water, I gargled with it, and then to clear the sinuses I placed the salty water in the cup of my palm, sniffed it up gently while tilting my head back a bit, and then spat it out and blew my nose. Breathing steam from cooking sage simmering in water was also helpful.

Easing kidney stress. The kidney area was somewhat sore and tender to the touch, particularly during the first week and a half of the illness. This stress was relieved to a considerable extent by the ingestion of copious amounts of chickweed (Stellaria spp.) tea.

Anti-infectives. Garlic is an old and useful herbal remedy for internal infections and also presumably for prevention of infection. Cooked garlic may not be as effective as raw or dried. I sniffed "fumes" from crushed dried garlic (and also swallowed some of the garlic).
Vitamin C in appropriate quantities can prevent deficiency, (and deficiency can result in reduced resistance to infection). I took 500 mg. of buffered, timed-release ascorbic acid with bioflavonoids at least once a day during the illness.

Nutrition. During the first couple of weeks of the illness, the idea of solid food was, to say the least, not particularly appealing. However, I craved oranges and ate a lot of them (including chewing the white part from the underside of the peel of organic oranges, since I understood this contained some bioflavonoids). I ate other fresh fruits and also clear soups made with fresh vegetables. I avoided foods that would have required much digestion. When intestinal absorption seemed to be a problem, I absorbed minerals through the skin by rubbing in a solution of liquefied seaweed mixed with sesame oil.

Maria Abdin
P.O. Box 21521
Seattle, WA 98111

Berger, A. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) - paradigm of an emerging viral infection. J.Clin. Virology. 1-20-04, pp. 13-22.

Everidge, Dirk (Associated Press). Jet ventilation studied in spread of disease.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 3-26-03, p. A2.

Centers for Disease Control [CDC]. Frequently asked questions about SARS. 9-29-03.
Available at:

King, Warren. US still vulnerable to SARS, experts say.
Seattle Times, 5-19-03
p. 31.

Lin, Moses. WHO recognizes TCM [Traditional Chinese Medicine] in the treatment of SARS. Traditional Chinese Medicine. World. Winter 2003, p. 5,(396 Broadway #501, New York, TW~lOOl3;

Low, Donald E, SARS--one year later.
NEJM. 12-18-03, pp. 2381-2382.
SARS lives on.
New Scientist, Oct. Il, 2003;5.

Stein, Rob (
Washington Post). In Hong Kong, a tower of infection. Seattle Times, 4-18-03, p. A2.

Stein, Rob (Washington Post). 16 caught SARS flying with infected passengers.
Seattle Times, 5-20-03, p. AS.

Tsang, Kenneth W, et al , A cluster of cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Hong Kong. NEJM. 5-15-03, pp. 1977-1985.

World Health Organization [WHO]. Case definition for surveillance of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). 5-1-03. Available at:

World Health Organization [WHO]. First data on stability and resistance of SARS coronavirus compiled by members of WHO laboratory network. 5-4-03. Available at:

Xiao, A, et al. A retrospective study of 78 patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome.
Chinese Medical Journal. June 2003;l16(6), 805-810 - Abstract.

Zhao, Z, et al. Description and clinical treatment of an early outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Guangzhou, PR China.
Med. Microbiol. Aug. 2003; Vol.3:715-720


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