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Sanjay Gupta on Becoming ‘Pandemic Proof’ and Eating Pickles

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

Gupta uses smart proof: P – Plan ahead. We should never be caught off guard again. A – Rethink and reconnect the risk in your brain. Assess uncertainty and face unseen threats. O – Optimize health. Prepare the body for resistance to the pandemic. O – Organize the family. Learn to live everyday life again (with a twist). and F – Fight for our future. Your health depends on the health of everyone in the world.

WebMD spoke with Gupta to talk about the book, long-term COVID, and whether we will ever move from the pandemic phase to the endemic phase.

WebMD: How did you come up with the acronym PROOF and can we really prepare for the next pandemic while we are 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 that thinking came from many conversations I’ve had with scientists and those in the planning stages within from the US government. They used that term with me. At first I thought it was a very bold thing to hear but when I started to really dig into this and started doing a lot of homework looking at the prep plans from the past I think that, yes, we can – and should – prepare for the next one.

WebMD: It seems everyone is wondering: will this pandemic ever really end up being endemic?

Gupta: I think it will almost certainly be. It’s just a matter of when. I have spent so much time looking at previous pandemics, including H1N1 in 2009 and the influenza pandemic in 1918, and eventually we will come to an endemic phase, where the virus is still there but it is under control. 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 and 400,000, which is hard to envision.

At some point, a society balances what it is willing to tolerate in terms of tragic death and illness and the impact on society at large.

To answer you directly, right now we are at 80,000 new infections per day. Some experts say that if we get less than 10,000 new infections a day, it would make it look like we are in an endemic phase.

Still, a significant number of people believe COVID-19 is exaggerated and taken too seriously, so the question remains when we will reduce these daily infection numbers.

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

Gupta: I think it’s true. My life’s work for the past 20 years has been trying to increase science and health literacy. We have the highest scientific illiterate population in the developed world. I also always like to remind people that science is not like math. With science, you learn as you go. I have said it often: there are incredible campaigns around fashion and sport. But for science, it’s the CDC that doesn’t offer the most acceptable way to frame things.

This pandemic has taught us that science cannot live in an inaccessible vacuum.

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

WebMD: We need to end with something we learned on page 201 of your book: do 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? It got 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 improve my mood if I had a creative block.

When I first started talking to immunologists about the importance of the microbiome, they all recommended eating fermented foods. It’s so easy to make 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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