Tips to Improve Health Literacy

HealthLiteracyMonthOctober is Health Literacy Month! “Health Literacy,” according to HealthTap Medical Expert Dr. Jeff Livingston, “refers to a person’s ability to understand health information, which includes things like determining medication doses, judging the quality of health information, and understanding the risks and benefits of treatment.”

There’s a significant gap between how health issues are communicated, and the ability of most people to understand them and to take appropriate action. Low health literacy is associated with medication non-adherence, condition mismanagement, increased hospitalization rates, and higher healthcare costs.

Consider these stats:

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states that 9 out of 10 adults currently lack the necessary skills to properly manage their health and prevent diseases.
  • A Columbia University School of Nursing study found that 40 percent of patients with pacemakers and defibrillators did not property understand their cardiac health, including how the devices work or what to do in the event of irregular heartbeats.
  • About 50% of the 2 billion prescriptions filled each year are not taken correctly due to forgetfulness, dosage or duration confusion, ambivalence, or lack of understanding of the drug’s importance in the patient’s treatment regimen.

Dr. Reid Blackwelder, a Board Certified Family Medicine Doctor from Kingsport, Tennessee adds, “the biggest issue is usually when the provider does not check to see what literacy level the patient has, and uses words or phrases that are not understood. People often are embarrassed to admit they did not understand, so important parts of diagnostic or treatment decisions aren’t clearly reviewed.”

What you can do about it:

  • Be proactive about your health. Before speaking with your doctor, make a list of your symptoms and when they started, and write down all the medications you currently take—prescription and over the counter.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If something is not clear with the doctor, nurse or pharmacist’s instructions, ask them to use more familiar language, explain thing further, or write things down.
  • Stay connected to your healthcare provider. Make sure you have the contact numbers of your healthcare providers in case you have questions in between visits.

You can also use a service like HealthTap to reach one of our 63,000+ doctors to ask general health questions for free or schedule live virtual consults 24/7 via secure HD video or text chat with HealthTap Prime.



5 Things You Need to Know About the Ebola Virus

EbolaVirus | HealthTapOn September 30, 2014, doctors in Texas diagnosed the first case of Ebola in the U.S. in a patient who recently returned from Africa. With more than 4,000 known cases and a fatality rate of up to 90%, this Ebola outbreak is the deadliest in history, since the virus was discovered in 1976. As fear of an outbreak in the United States continues to spread, health officials urge everyone not to panic, stating that the U.S. healthcare system is fully equipped to deal with the virus.

Here are five of the most commonly asked questions about Ebola, along with answers from top doctors from HealthTap.

1. What is the Ebola Virus?

Ebola was first recognized in 1976 as the cause of outbreaks of disease in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (then known as zaire) and in Sudan. Ebola produces one of the most deadly forms of viral hemorrhagic fevers. Exactly how the ebola virus enters cells is unknown at present. The ebola virus appears to infect many different cell types. It can infect various mammals, not just primates. - Dr. Robert Kwok 

Ebola is a type of virus which causes hemorrhagic fever. It is a severe, often deadly illness in humans and some animals (like monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees). There is no cure for the disease as today. - Dr. Victor Nwanguma

Ebola Virus causes hemorrhagic fever, a viral disease that causes bleeding and shock in patients. - Dr. Jeff M. Livingston

Ebola virus is a filovirus found primarily in Central Africa that causes a hemorrhagic fever that is frequently fatal. - Dr. Larry-Lutwick

Of 5 species of ebola, 3 (BDBV,EBOV,SUD: Africa) have 90% fatality. Spread by contact blood, secretions & body fluids, broken skin and mucus membranes. - Dr. Forrest Jones

2. What are the symptoms of Ebola?

Early signs and symptoms include fever severe, headache joint, and muscle aches, chills, sore throat, weakness over time. Symptoms become increasingly severe and may include: nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, red eyes, raised rash, chest pain and cough, stomach pain, severe weight loss, bleeding. - Dr. Ahmad M Hadied

Abrupt onset of fever, muscle aches and headache followed by nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, chest pain, cough and sore throat. Other common features are photophobia, swollen lymph glands, yellow jaundice and pancreatitis. Central nervous system symptoms up to and including coma develop and as the disease progresses bleeding manifestations develop. 50-90% of patients die. - Dr. Michael Ein

The symptoms of Ebola virus infection are relatively non-specific in a diagnostic sense. You must develop fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea followed shortly by liver, kidney failure and problems with hemostasis. This must occur in the appropriate epidemiologic context for one to think about Ebola as a possible cause. There are other causes of hemorrhagic fevers, including Dengue. - Dr. Martin Raff

EbolaInfographic_jpg3. How is it spread?

The virus may be acquired upon contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected animal (commonly monkeys or fruit bats). Spread through the air has not been documented in the natural environment.Fruit bats are believed to carry and spread the virus without being affected. Once human infection occurs, the disease may spread between people as well. Male survivors may be able to transmit the disease via semen for nearly two months.   Dr. Michael Finkelstein

By contact with the body fluids of infected people. Some animals presumably serve as reservoirs of infection between human outbreaks, but the details haven’t been worked out. - Dr. Joel Gallant

Ebola is spread by direct contact with an infected individual or the body and fluids of an infected person. So unless you are planning a trip to West Africa, you almost certainly cannot encounter Ebola. - Dr. Richard Bensinger

4. Is there a cure or treatment for Ebola?

Ebola has no cure or meaningful treatment other than to provide support to failing systems until the person recovers. The patient must be place in a level 4 isolation to prevent spread. In a rural village in an area with no real medical care calling in medicine sans frontiers might help, but most likely the village or at least all who are sick are doomed. - Dr. William Walsh

No treatment yet for Ebola. Thus it is best to focus on prevention. The health authorities in western Africa have been trying hard to educate and limit this outbreak, but it’s more difficult than they realized. A good reminder to us all to take health prevention seriously– everywhere and at all times. It’s the best way to stay healthy. - Dr. Stephen Scholand

Currently, there isn’t a cure for Ebola. The patient may be hospitalized, placed in isolation & provided intensive care measures such as: oxygen, medication to maintain blood pressure, blood transfusions (platelets or fresh blood), intravenous fluids & electrolytes & treatment of co-existing infections. Zmapp is a biopharmacuetical drug that is being used experimentally for Ebola.  - Dr. Heidi A. Fowler 

“Supportive care” is the best treatment. Basically treat the symptoms as they appear with; -Intravenous fluids (IV) and electrolytes -Maintaining oxygen status and blood pressure [Symptoms=vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases bleeding] Some experimental immune and drug therapies have been administered to Westerners that contracted the virus. - Dr. Varun Verma

5. How can we protect ourselves?

Prevention includes decreasing the spread of disease from infected monkeys and pigs to humans. This may be done by checking such animals for infection and killing and properly disposing of the bodies if the disease is discovered. Properly cooking meat and wearing protective clothing when handling meat may also be helpful, as are wearing protective clothing and washing hands when around a person with the disease. Samples of bodily fluids and tissues from people with the disease should be handled with special caution. - -  Dr. Michael Finkelstein

Avoid areas where the disease is occurring. Stay away from infected individuals and corpses of victims of the disease. - Dr. Phillip Goebel

Prevention – avoid travel to countries in West Africa affected by Ebola epidemic. Medical personnel should don gown, gloves, & mask when dealing w patients who may be infected with Ebola. - Dr. Heidi A. Fowler 

Cases must be isolated, caregivers enclosed in hazard suits, and the dead cremated to destroy the virus. Unfortunately during the day or two of pre-manifestation, the victim could be shedding virus without know of the infection. - Dr. Richard Bensinger

For more information, visit the Ebola Virus page on HealthTap or ask our  doctors for advice now.


Ebola Update: First Case of Ebola Virus Diagnosed on U.S. Soil

Ebola VirusThe first case of the Ebola virus has just been diagnosed on U.S. soil, and as many as 100 people are being checked for exposure. BBC News reports that more than 3,300 have died in the Ebola outbreak in four west African countries.

While there is currently no cure, Dr. Richard Bensinger states that “There are some promising leads which will take a while to perfect. A number of pharmaceutical houses and scientists are studying this and there is significant reward for the best solution.”

What is the Ebola virus and how is it transmitted?

  • The Ebola Virus causes Ebola hemorrhagic fever, a viral disease that causes bleeding and shock in patients.
  • Symptoms typically start two days to three weeks after contracting the virus, with a fever, sore throat, muscle pains, and headaches.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea typically follow, along with decreased functioning of the liver and kidneys.
  • The time from exposure to onset of symptoms can be as long as 21 days.
  • Unlike influenza or measles, ebola is difficult to transmit, requiring close contact or sharing of bodily fluids (including sexual relations)
  • The virus may also be acquired upon contact with blood or bodily fluids of an infected animal (commonly monkeys or fruit bats).
  • Men who survive Ebola may transmit the disease sexually (condoms recommended for 3 months after surviving ebola)

For more information about the Ebola virus including conditions, symptoms, treatments and tests, visit HealthTap’s Ebola Virus page.

Sources: BBC News and the doctors at HealthTap.

15 Myths & Facts About the Flu

Child with fever | HealthTapFall is finally here and flu season is well underway. And when it comes to dealing with those aches, chills, and fever, we’ll often try anything to help us feel better faster. From drinking ginger tea to taking Vitamin C, there’s no shortage of advice on the internet. But what’s myth and what’s fact?

Our HealthTap doctors are here to set the facts straight and point you to the road to wellness. In this week’s post, can you tell what’s Myth and what’s Fact? Scroll down for answers and click on the links to learn more.

Test Your Knowledge: Myth or Fact?

1. The Flu Vaccine causes the flu.

2. Child running a fever | HealthTapChildren can spread the influenza virus for longer periods than adults.

3. If you get the flu, you can’t get it again during that flu season. 

4.  Chicken soup is good for colds and flu.

5. Antibiotics cure the flu.

6. If you’re allergic to eggs, you shouldn’t get a flu vaccine.

7. The flu causes itchy, watery eyes, and a runny nose.

8. One of the easiest ways to avoid the flu is to wash your hands regularly.

9. Babies as young as 6 months can get a flu shot.

10. Swine flu is transmitted by pork products.

11. Gargling with a teaspoon of salt dissolved in water helps soothe sore throats.

12. The flu is the leading cause of death from vaccine-preventable diseases.

13. A flu shot will help to keep you from getting a cold.

14. Cold weather causes the flu and colds.

15. Influenza is the 8th leading cause of death in the U.S.

Still have questions? Our doctors are here to help! Learn more about the flu on HealthTap or ask a doctor about the flu now.

(Answers: 1. Myth, 2. Fact, 3. Myth, 4. Fact, 5. Myth, 6. Myth, 7. Fact, 8. Fact, 9. Fact, 10. Myth, 11. Fact, 12. Fact, 13. Myth, 14. Myth, 15. Fact)

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Flu Symptom Checklist


“Influenza (aka “the flu”) is a contagious respiratory viral illness that can cause mild to severe illness including death. There is treatment available to decrease symptoms, but it is better to prevent the flu is by getting the vaccine every year,” states HealthTap Medical Expert Dr. Henry Selke.

Can you tell the difference between a cold and the flu?

Here are symptoms to look out for:


Flu Symptoms


Need some help? Head over to HealthTap and ask one of our 63,000 doctors!