Sanjay Gupta, MD’s latest book, World War C: Lessons from the COVID-19 Pandemic and How to Prepare for the Next One, is a riveting description of Dr. Gupta’s experience of the pandemic from the day he first heard about it. He writes, “And when it became clear several months into the pandemic that COVID-19 was causing neurological deficits, from minor ones like temporary loss of taste and smell to more serious problems like stroke, dementia, and psychiatric disorders, my worlds of brain surgeon and medical correspondent came crashing together.”
Dr. Gupta makes it clear that America (and most of the rest of the world) was not prepared to combat this virus. “We made mistakes, and that’s the bad news. The good news is that we now have the chance to learn from them,” he tells us. He goes on to say, “The virus is here to stay, so we must get used to it. Vaccines will help, but they will not give us a fairy tale ending. There is no on/off switch here. Another pandemic-worthy pathogen may be right around the corner, so we need to learn how to better predict, prepare, and respond.”
He gives us many patient stories because, as he puts it, “In the millions of lives lost, there are important lessons, and we must take the time to learn them, no matter how painful.” His optimism shines through, however, when he writes, “The hope is that we will learn how to better respond as a world, as nations, and as individuals.”
Dr. Gupta provides us with five strategies for becoming pandemic proof:
1. Plan Ahead – “There are three important steps to prepare for your future with this virus: gain perspective; find your sources of valuable and trustworthy information; and be prepared to go into pandemic mode at a moment’s notice.” His recommended sources of information include pubmed.gov, sciencedirect.com, cochranelibrary.com, and scholar.google.com.
2. Rethink & Rewire Risk in Your Brain – “The adult brain is not very good at accepting truly novel experiences. A fully mature brain will always scramble to fit the new experience into an existing one.” Having said that, he goes on to give us some good news, “We may need to mask up again in future years, for which the wiring we’ve established in the COVID era will come to good use. We now have that all-important memory to motivate us and switch into COVID control mode quickly.”
3. Optimize Health – “If there’s one silver lining to this pandemic, it is the intense attention shining on our general unhealthiness, forcing us to consider what we can do about it before another virus arrives.” The FoodTrients website is dedicated to helping you find out exactly what you can do to improve your health through better nutrition. In addition to eating well, Dr. Gupta also mentions staying active, getting enough sleep, and reducing stress for optimal performance and a strong immune system.
4. Organize Family – “We are all in this together, and every family would do well to get organized in ways they probably hadn’t thought about pre-pandemic.” Dr. Gupta provides a ten-point family checklist that addresses the best strategies for living with COVID. Some of those points include getting regular medical checkups, carefully choosing health insurance, rebuilding emergency funds, and putting advance directives in place.
5. Fight for the Future of Us – “An outbreak anywhere in the world is an outbreak everywhere in the world.” So what’s the solution? “In an ideal scenario, the most vulnerable to a disease would be vaccinated first, no matter where they live.” Instead of sending vaccines to the wealthiest nations first, Dr. Gupta advises that we should consider need above resources.
Even if we don’t have another major COVID outbreak, we are sure to be infected with some new or unheard-of pathogen in the future. “The common cold originated in camels, and many strains of flu come from pigs and birds, such as H1N1 and H5N1,” he tells us. “Viruses in particular have an advantage over other pathogens because they are not alive, so they can theoretically hide out for as long as it takes to strike when the settings are right. Case in point: A few years ago, scientists in France awakened a gigantic, ancient virus from its 30,000-year-long slumber in Siberian permafrost that’s ready to infect again. Now this virus, dubbed Pithovirus sibericum, only infects single-celled amoebas (whew!). But the discovery has scientists wondering what other microbes are hidden in melting permafrost awaiting another chance to find a new host.” But if we follow Dr. Gupta’s advice, we should never be caught off guard again.
(Dr. Sanjay Gupta is CNN’s Emmy Award–winning chief medical correspondent and the host of the acclaimed podcast Chasing Life (formerly Coronavirus: Fact vs Fiction), America’s go-to resource for expert advice on how to stay healthy and safe. The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Chasing Life, Cheating Death, Monday Mornings, and Keep Sharp, Dr. Gupta lives in Atlanta, where he works as an associate professor of neurosurgery at the Emory University School of Medicine.)