Sanjay Gupta on Becoming ‘Pandemic Proof’ and Eating Pickles



Nov. 18, 2021 — We have so much to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic and Sanjay Gupta, MD, CNN’s chief medical correspondent in his new book, World War C: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic and How to Prepare for the Next One, urges us to get prepared now for future pandemics.

Gupta uses the acronym PROOF: P — Plan ahead. We should never be caught off guard again. R — Rethink and rewire risk in your brain. Evaluate uncertainty and deal with unseen threats. O — Optimize health. Prime the body for pandemic proofing. O — Organize family. Learn how to live everyday life anew (with a twist). and F — Fight for the future of us. Your health depends on everyone else’s around the world.

WebMD sat down with Gupta to talk about the book, long-haul COVID and whether we’ll ever move from the pandemic to endemic phase.

WebMD: How did you come up with the PROOF acronym and can we really prepare for the next pandemic when we’re still in one?

Gupta: We weren’t ready for the first catastrophic global pandemic of the century, but yes, we can prepare for the next one and this thinking came from lots of conversations I had with scientists and people in preparedness in the U.S. government. They were using this term with me. At first I thought that’s a very audacious thing to hear, but when I started to really dig into this and started doing a lot of homework looking at preparedness plans of the past, I believe that, yes, we can — and should — get prepared for the next one.

WebMD: It seems everyone is wondering: Will this pandemic ever really make it to the endemic phase?

Gupta: I think it will almost assuredly. It’s just a question of when. I’ve spent so much time looking at previous pandemics, including H1N1 in 2009 and the flu pandemic in 1918, and ultimately, we will get to an endemic phase, where the virus is still out there but it’s controlled. The big question is what are we willing to tolerate. As a society we have the flu that can kill 60,000 people a year. Right now we’re much higher than that, we have a current death rate of between 350,000 to 400,000, which is difficult to contemplate.

At some point, a society balances what it’s willing to tolerate in terms of these tragic deaths and illness and the impact on society overall.

To answer you directly, right now we’re at 80,000 new infections a day. Some experts say that if we get below 10,000 new infections a day that would feel like we’re in an endemic phase.

Still, a significant number of people think that COVID-19 is being overblown and being taken too seriously so the question remains as to when we’ll get these daily infection numbers down.

WebMD: How can we get more people to think science is cool — that vaccines are a marvel, not a threat? In other words, it seems like vaccines need a way better publicist.

Gupta: I think that’s true. My life’s work for the last 20 years has been to try to increase science and health literacy. We have the highest science-illiterate population in the developed world. I always like to remind people, too, that science isn’t like math. With science, we learn as we go along. I’ve said this often—there are incredible campaigns around fashion and sports. But for science it’s the CDC which doesn’t offer the most palatable way of framing things.

This pandemic has taught us that science can’t live in an inaccessible vacuum.

We have to educate people, but I’m optimistic about all the new ways we can present this information to people.

WebMD: We have to end with something we learned on page 201 of your book — that you eat pickles every day?

Gupta: Yes! I eat something fermented every day. The thing about writing a book is that you learn a lot. You spend a lot of time talking to people who are researching this stuff all the time.

People always say ‘I want to boost my immunity,’ but what does that mean? This led me back to the microbiome and the fact that 80% of our immunity is in our gut.

Something about eating a dill pickle gave me a boost of energy and helped boost my mood if I had a creative block.

When I started talking to immunologists about the importance of the microbiome, they all recommended eating fermented foods. It’s so easy to do and my family and I incorporate these foods every day —we’ll eat things like kimchi or coleslaw, but pickles are the best!


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