Health

Junk Science? Number 134: Thai Government backs local herb and Favipiravir to fight Covid-19

Fah talai jone, a herb grown in the North of Thailand and commonly used to fight colds and the flu, is now being promoted by the Thai Government as an approved way to fight Covid-19, while it has also stockpiled an 8-year old influenza drug, Favipiravir, which also has research support.

Dr. Fauci is back on the US TV telling Americans ‘It’s not over yet’, and, along with President Biden, he is encouraging mask wearing in schools and at home, plus mRNA boosters (again!) because of variants BA.2 and 2.12, and 2.12.1. Total cases attributed to COVID-19 in the USA are 78.53 million, with 981,242 deaths as on April 15th 2022; that is for a total population of approximately 330 million. Whatever happened to Fauci’s aim to vaccinate 70% of the population with his NIH mRNA vaccines and achieve herd immunity? Currently 65% of the population are considered fully vaccinated with 77% having had at least one dose.

And vaccine mandates are widespread in the USA, Australia, Canada, Israel and France. Over 70% has been achieved in several of these countries. But the cases look like they are about to rise again. Has anybody stopped to ask whether Fauci mRNA vaccines are the answer? Maybe new types are needed?

German voters have now democratically voted not to have vaccine mandates for these mRNA vaccines. Perhaps their concerns over research into the vaccines is part of the story, or perhaps its their more deliberate and functional nature which thinks something new is required? Most scientists I know, think this is definitely true.

Thailand likes herbs

One country has had Covid-19 since it was first heard of, with six cases amongst Chinese Tourists in Hua Hin, in March 2020. Since that date, Thailand’s cases peaked at around the 21,000 level with Omicron, but previous levels were in the 3,000 to 8,000 band, Deaths have rarely exceeded 100 a day. Even after the 4 day street celebrations of Songkran, the Water Festival around April 13th, New Years Day, where masks were visibly missing and alcohol wasn’t, the number of new cases is just 16,000 with deaths at a little over 100. Thailand’s population is a little over 70 million.

Chiretta – the herb the Thais trust

Fah talai jone or Chiretta is a well known plant in the North of Thailand. Locals know it has wonderful benefits. They were brewing it into a liquid the moment Covid was first mentioned. It is known to combat fevers, influenza, respiratory problems, and locals drinking the brew were on TV every night when Covid-19 first hit Thailand.  Thai billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont even plans to build a factory, to develop the traditional herbal medicine and give it away for free to the Thai people (population 65 million).

Green ‘Chiretta’ (Andrographis paniculate), is not just a local tradition. The latest step in its approval follows a Clinical Trial amongst prisoners, where 99 per cent recovered. Thai prisons are very crowded and high levels of Covid infections have occurred – at oner point, the majority of cases in Thailand! The prisoners were very clear the the herb relieved fever and stopped people coughing. More than 69,000 prisoners have been treated with Green Chiretta so far (1).

And Fah Talai Jone has research behind it too; it inhibits bacterial and virus growth, it is a powerful anti-inflammatory and helps to cure coughs, respiratory problems and ‘flu. Research with 304 Covid-19 patients involved giving the herb containing 180 milligrams of Andrographolide, three times a day before meals. Most of the patients responded to the herb immediately and their condition actually improved in five days. The herbal extract was shown to prevent Covid-19 from entering body cells and therefore dividing itself, announced Department of Thai Traditional and Alternative Medicine director-general Dr. Amporn Benjaponpitak (2). There is no research suggesting it can prevent Covid-19.

Antiviral drugs

And while the UK Government health service is providing the new antiviral drugs –  Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s Molnupiravir, which it claims are reducing hospitalisations by 88% and 30% respectively (3) – Thailand’s Health Department  has searched existing medications; and with good reason. Merck has already been accused of selling this drug at 40 times the cost (4). 

Back in 2020 Thammasat University conducted Clinical trials on two antiviral medications, lopinavir/ritonavir and darunavir/ritonavir. Neither helped patients and, in fact, hospitalisation was longer in those given the drugs (5). Thailand continued looking. 

Using Azithromycin at first sign of Covid-19 

Azithromycin, an antibacterial drug, which has also been used to fight malaria, is gaining fans as a Covid-19 treatment in Thailand. Research shows this is not effective with Covid-19, unless used at the very first signs of the disease (6) – and that is exactly how it is used in Thailand.

But, Thailand does have an antiviral already that it trusts. Thailand will continue to treat COVID-19 patients with both antiviral drugs and local herbal capsules, said Dr. Korakrit Limsommut, head of the Health Administration Division within the Ministry of Public Health (MoPS). 

Research shows existing Japanese antiviral Favipiravir fights Covid-19

Dr. Limsommut said that Covid-19 patients with few or no symptoms will get very general anti-inflammatory drugs, those with mild symptoms will get green Chiretta, and people in vulnerable groups with get favipiravir (Thailand has stocked up with 10 million pills and wants to prevent any possible shortage. Research (6) shows that this general and inexpensive antiviral, Favipiravir, produced a clinical improvement on days 7 and 14 in the favipiravir group of 54.33% and 84.63%, 

Favipiravir, sold under the brand name Avigan among others, is an antiviral medication used to treat influenza in Japan. It is a pyrazinecarboxamide derivative, approved in 2014 and blocks viral RNA-dependent RNA polymerases. It was stockpiled in Japan to be used against influenza epidemics. 

 References

  1. Report – https://news.sky.com/story/covid-19-how-thailand-is-using-a-cheap-and-effective-traditional-herbal-medicine-to-treat-coronavirus-12428157 
  2. Research on herb in Thailand – https://www.nationthailand.com/in-focus/40000086
  3. UK report – https://news.sky.com/story/covid-vulnerable-coronavirus-patients-getting-at-home-treatment-which-improves-symptoms-within-hours-12585804
  4. Merck fumbles – https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-02-03/drug-maker-merck-s-antiviral-covid-pill-fumble-gives-pfizer-17-billion-win 
  5. Antiviral treatment could not provide clinical benefit in management of mild COVID-19: A Retrospective Experience from Field hospital; J Infec Public Health; 2021 Sep;14(9):1206-1211 – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34419704/ 
  6. Use of Azithromycin at first signs of Covid-19; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32510734/
  7. Favipiravir for the treatment of patients with COVID-19: a systematic review and meta-analysis; BMC Infec Dis; 2021, 21, 489 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8159019/ 
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