Corrections on fish oil and rabies, but not vaccines

In three years of writing this health column, I’ve made mistakes.

In my Oct. 15, 2019, column “Bacon and red meat: A hard 'no'?” I said, quoting from a 2018 JAMA article, that fish oil supplements were not helpful. But I failed to note a later study which showed that high-dose fish oil (4g daily) reduces cardiovascular events and death among a unique group of people – those with high triglycerides (a type of cholesterol) and at risk for heart diseases. The result of a similar study is about to come out. A correction is in order.

At times, I sacrificed science for the dramatic.

In my Aug. 15, 2017, column, “Zen and the art of backpacking,” during a family trip to Ecuador, we saw a dog dying on the roadside.

My response: “Don’t move,” I said sharply to my daughter. “This dog is rabid.”

Well, it turns out you really can’t diagnose rabies based on looks. You need a brain biopsy.

A more scientifically sound and politically correct response would’ve been: “Megan,” I said gently but firmly to my daughter, “this dog has a low to medium probability of being rabid. To properly diagnose rabies in animals, we need a brain biopsy, which is not possible unless the animal is dead. Meanwhile, don’t move … please.”

Nope, I didn’t do that.

Then there’s the “we agree to disagree.”

Weeks after my April 18, 2017, column, “The vexing anti-vaccine crusade” was published, a thick folder, weighted with colorful charts, graphs and a Dear-Jane letter, arrived at my old work address, rerouted to me.

The letter started:

“Dear Dr. Pi,

I was a bit taken back by your recent article. … It sounded as though you are unaware of the significant number of vaccine injuries that are occurring nationwide. … You have a misconception about herd immunity, its origin and application. We feel this information is very important for mainstream medical professionals. … We are happy to give you FREE admission [to a vaccine-injury meeting held locally] if you would agree to attend.”

 “Mark,” I hollered to my husband, “somebody from Massillon read my article.” I was ecstatic.

Upon hearing my story, Tom, my friend, quipped if I loved fan mail so much, he could write me once a week. At the time, I demurred. “No, thank you. Writing itself rewards me.”

That’s a lie.

Here’s what I should’ve said, “Go ahead, Tom. Write away. Mix it up.”

And to my Massillon reader – Ms. Anti-Vaxxer:

“Dear Ms. AV,

Thank you for your 12-page response to my column. No, I didn’t know “herd immunity” was coined almost a century ago – an interesting tidbit of historical information.

But, no, 68 percent is not adequate for herd immunity. For as highly contagious a disease as measles, a herd-immunity threshold of 93-95 percent is needed to protect the community.

I vaccinate myself and my kids to protect myself, my kids, you and your kids. It’s the right thing to do.

Thank you for being a loyal and reactive reader. It warms my heart."

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Volume 11, Issue 22, Posted 9:31 AM, 11.19.2019