Medical experts warn Canadians not to believe the hype after a hidden camera investigation revealed that an acupuncturist in Winnipeg was selling an herbal tea that he believed could prevent COVID-19.
In an email to customers last week, Guojian Huang, an acupuncture therapist and specialist in traditional Chinese medicine, said that drinking a mixture of six herbs in tea for six days would keep people safe.
“COVID-19 is here.… The same goes for herbal tea to prevent COVID-19,” said the email sent on March 18.
He told clients of the acupuncture clinic to “order your coronavirus prevention tea now”.
A Facebook post of the same day made a similar statement.
“This is completely outrageous,” said Cedric Cheung, national president of the China Association of Medicine and Acupuncture of Canada, when he was informed of the complaint.
“You cannot make a statement that could mislead a patient. “
Health Canada has not approved any product to prevent, treat, or cure COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
“Selling unauthorized health products or making false or misleading claims to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 is illegal in Canada,” a Health Canada spokesperson said in an email to CBC News.
“We are taking this matter very seriously and we are taking steps to end this activity.”
Tea bags sold to a reporter
Using a hidden camera, a CBC reporter posed as an interested customer last week and went to the Huang clinic for tea. The recommended six-day treatment costs $ 60.
He said about 200 doctors and medical staff went to the Chinese city of Wuhan – where the virus was first detected in December – and treated patients with the disease, but none fell ill.
“Before going to Wuhan, everyone drinks this type of tea, everyone is safe after they return,” Huang told CBC reporter. “They stay there for almost a month.“
WATCH | Hidden camera video inside the Ankang Acupuncture Healing Center in Winnipeg:
He said that in two days, he had already sold “hundreds” of tea bags, which he had mixed at his Winnipeg clinic, the Ankang Acupuncture Healing Center.
Huang said he used herbs from Vancouver and Toronto and followed a recipe developed by Chinese doctors who went to Wuhan.
“Sometimes experience is more important than science,” Huang told the CBC reporter.
Huang declined a request for a further interview, but told CBC News by email that his belief in the healing properties of tea came from the teachings.
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“All the information that I told you over the phone or in my clinic, I got it from an online seminar as well as many research articles, online news, etc. where Chinese medicine doctors shared their experiences and knowledge on using herbal medicine and acupuncture to prevent and treat coronaviruses, “said Huang’s email.
He later returned to his comments in another email to CBC.
“Please don’t get me wrong on the benefits of Chinese herbal tea,” Huang said in a later email.
“For prevention, the most important thing is to keep a social distance, to wash your hands, to isolate yourself, to wear masks, gloves, goggles if necessary. Herbs cannot replace these things. “
“Now they think they are invincible”: a doctor
A Toronto doctor who treated patients during the SARS epidemic warns people of the beliefs about COVID-19 treatments.
“My concern is that they are desperate,” said Dr. Peter Lin in a Skype interview with CBC News. “They take these things and then now they think they are invincible, and they don’t take the precautions that will actually protect them, because now they trust this particular tea.”
Dr. Lin runs two family medicine practices in Toronto and is a regular columnist for the CBC. Since the COVID-19 epidemic, he has heard everything, claims that standing on his head will keep the virus away and saying that drinking hot water and vinegar is a means of prevention.
“Everyone wants to find this magical kind of” take vitamin C and everything will be fine “… kind of thing,” he said.
“But unfortunately, with this particular virus, it gets into your lungs and attaches to it. So the best thing is to prevent it from getting into your lungs. In other words, protect your personal boundaries. ”
Dr. Lin said that what works to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is to wash your hands often, avoid touching your face, and keep your distance from others.
“Our interest is public safety”
Cheung of the Chinese Association of Medicine and Acupuncture, who has been an acupuncturist for 45 years, says that when it comes to a pandemic like COVID-19, non-traditional medicine can help people – but it should be used in conjunction with Western medicine.
“We will be happy to combine them [herbal and Western medicines] to do our best to establish a success rate, “he said.
He called any “acupuncturist” to make broad statements like Huang’s.
“All of our interest is in public safety and health. It is number one, and you cannot make a statement that can mislead a patient,” he said.
“If I know a member of my organization [has made a] fictitious statement, I will definitely take action. “
On Wednesday, Mr. Cheung said a letter was sent to Huang after the allegations regarding treatment with COVID-19 were brought to his attention by CBC. The letter warned Huang to be “cautious” in advertising herbal products in relation to COVID-19, and said that any future offense could be the subject of legal action.
A Winnipeg virologist has said that the fact that Wuhan doctors did not get the virus does not mean that it was the tea that protected them.
“Correlation is not synonymous with causation, and that is just how we look at it in the laboratory,” said Jason Kindrachuk, assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in emerging viruses at the university. from Manitoba.
There is currently no medical treatment that prevents or cures COVID-19, said Kindrachuk, and the public must question anyone who claims otherwise.
“We have no vaccines and we have no therapies,” he said. “If we can’t validate it, it’s purely anecdotal.”
Guojian Huang is not a licensed physician and has never been registered with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, according to Registrar Dr. Anna Ziomek.
Dr. Ziomek said that the college neither registers nor regulates acupuncturists or practitioners of Chinese medicine.
Under the Regulated Health Professions Act, only persons authorized by the College of Manitoba are entitled to use the title of “doctor” in the province.
The practice of traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture is not regulated in Manitoba, but many practitioners choose to belong to provincial organizations that offer exams to become members.
Huang is chairman of the board of the Manitoba Professional Acupuncture Association.
When asked to comment on Huang’s claims, the association’s vice president, Yujing Qiu, said that Huang should not have used a word such as “prevent”.
“He should change to” help “,” she said in an email to CBC. “I can help a person to warn, but not everyone.”
Health Canada and the Government of Manitoba do not regulate the mixing of special tea. The province has said that public health inspectors will inspect acupuncture facilities only on complaint.
Currently, there is no routine inspection program or regulation in place for these establishments.
FDA issues warnings on claims
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters to seven companies she said were selling fraudulent COVID-19 products, including one located in Sarnia, Ontario.
The FDA said that Canadian company Vivify Holistic had announced a “four-part protocol developed to fight the coronavirus epidemic in Wuhan”, which the company published on its Facebook page and on a separate website, coronavirusdefense.com .
The protocol was to drink a specific loose leaf tea six times a day.
“The FDA considers the sale and promotion of fraudulent COVID-19 products to be a public health threat,” said FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen M. Hahn in a statement on the website. administration.
“We have an aggressive monitoring program that regularly monitors online sources of health fraud products, particularly during a major public health issue like this.”
After the letter was made public, a spokesperson for Vivify Holistic told CBC that the protocol was developed by a well-known author and herbalist. He said he removed all references to the author’s virus and quotes from the website.
Like Health Canada, the FDA has stated that there is currently no vaccine or drug approved to treat or prevent COVID-19.
Health Canada encourages anyone with information about the advertising or sale of any health product claiming to treat, prevent, or cure COVID-19 to report it using its online complaint form.