Acupuncture has a long history of treating post viral illness.

The recent Coronavirus infection has been widely documented as having caused some difficult recovery experiences even in cases where initial illness was not severe. Chinese medicine has a model of treatment for post-viral symptoms which it sees being caused by a “retained pathogenic factor”.

In Western research, flu-like symptoms after an acute infection has resolved are seen an indication that the immune system has not returned to normal. This response is thought to be linked to chemicals called “cytokines” which are produced by the immune system. Chinese medicine has a model of treatment for this situation which it sees being caused by a “retained pathogenic factor”.

Acupuncture treatments to help the body “expel” the factor are indicated and successful even some time after the original illness, but the longer the duration of post-viral symptoms, the deeper the depletion and the longer the subsequent building of resources to full recovery.

Post Viral Symptoms in Classical Acupuncture Theory

A retained pathogenic factor is not necessarily a live pathogen, as the original illness has resolved, but can rather be thought of as an immune system response “stuck”in the body. The initial heat component (inflammation) of an illness continues to linger, drying out tissues, leading to loss of function and increased irritation and hypersensitivity.

The level at which a “pathogen” or the immune response to it is stuck, will determine the type of symptoms which follow on. It might be seen as redness or rash, or experienced as a respiratory allergy or digestive upset/ food intolerance. There is always fatigue with this picture, as with time, the chronic heat and loss of resources it causes, can affect the organs, particularly the Liver and the Spleen which will then in turn lead to a complex of symptoms connected with their function. Treatments to “expel” the “external pathogenic factor” (Epf) are necessary before the body can regain full health without this continual leakage of its resources.  

These are the most familiar symptoms of a post-viral illness:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscular aches and pains
  • Flu symptoms or general feeling of being unwell

These are some chronic symptoms which are seen as indications of a retained pathogenic factor:

  • Abnormal Heat
  • Abnormal Sweating
  • Muscle aches
  • Alternating Chills and Fever
  • Dizziness
  • Excessive mucous production
  • Nausea
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Food intolerances
  • Bitter Taste
  • Rashes
  • Sleep problems
  • Food allergies
  • Sinus congestion
  • Ear aches


Western and Chinese medicine both emphasise the need for patience in the process of recovery and indicate the importance of good management of post-viral symptoms, particularly in the early stages. Appropriate rest and movement together with a good diet strengthens the system gradually and reduces the chance of the symptoms tipping over into something more serious and long term.

Levels of depletion are actively addressed within an acupuncture framework, where treatments are given to “re-boot” and support organ function, particularly that of the spleen which is seen as the core and pivot of vitality in the body.

Post-Viral symptoms and Acupuncture


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