The ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic calls for effective control and prevention. Chinese medicine (CM) has developed systematic theories and approaches for infectious disease prevention over 2000 years. Here, we review and analyze Chinese herbal medicines (CHM) used in infectious disease prevention from ancient pestilences to modern epidemics and pandemics to share cumulative preventive medical experience. A total of 829 formulas, including 329 herbs from 189 ancient books, 131 formulas with 152 herbs, and 13 Chinese patent medicines (CPM) from 30 official Chinese prevention programs used in ancient epidemics, SARS, influenza and COVID-19 prevention, were reviewed and analyzed. Preventive CHM mainly has four functions and can be taken orally or applied externally. CHM that kill pathogens (Realgar [Xionghuang], Cyrtomium Fortunei J. Sm[Guanzhong]) were commonly used externally for disinfection in ancient prevention while CHM tonifying Qi (Astragali Radix [Huangq], Glycyrrhizae Radix et Rhizoma [Gancao]) are used for modern prevention. Taking CHM that expel pathogens (Realgar [Xionghuang], Lonicerae Japonicae Flos[Jinyinhua]) and CHM eliminating dampness (Atractylodis Rhizoma [Cangzhu], Pogostemonis Herba[Guanghuoxiang]) have been commonly used from ancient times to COVID-19. Damp toxins are a common characteristic of infectious diseases such as SARS and COVID-19. Thus, taking CHM expelling damp toxins and tonifying Qi are the main methods for SARS and COVID-19 prevention. CHM with different approaches have been widely used in infectious disease prevention from ancient times to the present. Multiple CM prevention methods may provide new perspectives for future pandemics.
Keywords: COVID-19; Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM); Chinese Medicine (CM); Epidemics; Herbs; Infectious Diseases; Pestilence; Prevention; Review.