The recent outbreak of a deadly bird flu in China caused by a new strain for which no effective treatment has been developed is driving many Chinese to traditional medicine and herbs for prevention and possible cures.

The virus, known as H7N9, has infected 21 people and left six of those dead, according to the World Health Organization. The seriousness of the threat has prompted officials to close the live poultry market in Shanghai and slaughter tens of thousands of birds.

Part of the reason for people returning to traditional medicine and herbs has been encouragement by provincial authorities. Initially, the Chinese Ministry of Health announced that the H7N9 virus is sensitive to Tamiflu, making the flu medicine a preliminary candidate for treating this new strain of bird flu.

Soon after, the Department of Health in Jiangsu province announced that indigowoad root, a popular traditional Chinese herbal medicine used to treat common colds and flus, may also be effective in preventing H7N9. Since then, so many residents of the province have been purchasing and stocking up on the medicine that many drug stores now have none left.

This is a familiar scene. Ten years ago, with the 2002 onset of deadly SARS, which stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome, residents of Beijing bought massive amounts of face masks, hand wash and indigowoad. In 2009, during the H1N1 outbreak, many Chinese drank indigowoad as tea. The indigowoad was jokingly called a cure-all or a magic potion.

However, experts said it is not necessary to irrationally take indigowoad.

“My research thus far has indicated that indigowoad has a certain degree of effectiveness in treating common flu strains, such as H1N1, H3N2," Zhong Nanshan, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, said. "I have not studied the new strain, H7N9, nor could I find any relevant research. I cannot conclusively determine indigowoad’s effectiveness in preventing H7N9. This outbreak is very novel, and there is currently little research in its prevention and treatment. I do not suggest irrationally taking indigowoad.”

On Friday, the Administration of the Management of Traditional Medicine in Zhejiang province announced a treatment plan for H7N9 avian flu using traditional medicine. The prevention plans include drinking herbal tea, taking traditional medicine and wearing herbs in an aromatic pouch. None of the plans listed the putatively magic potion indigowoad.

The Bureau of Health in Gansu province suggested massaging certain acupoints as effective prevention, to which Zhong said, “It’s always good to look for prevention methods, and there can’t be any harm in massaging acupoints.”

It was reported on Saturday that Peramivir, an injection developed in China and approved by the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration and the Center for Drug Evaluation, is on the market. The injection is said to be very effective in treating newly infected H7N9 patients.

An analyst from the Chinese Military Academy of Medical Science said Peramivir was developed eight years ago and is effective against viruses resistant to Tamiflu. It is an injection, therefore well-suited to treat patients severely ill with the flu, the analyst said. To date, Peramivir has not been used to treat any variety of avian influenza.

On Sunday, the Chinese National Administration of the Management of Traditional Medicine met for the second time to discuss H7N9. Many traditional herbs were in consideration for treating the new strain of flu. Experts said they will adjust treatment plans according to the situation. They also reminded the public that while indigowoad may have some effectiveness in treating the flu, it will not work for everyone.

The original story appeared in IBTimes China.