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 64,000 doctors!

Talk to a HealthTap doctor live 24/7


AppRx: 7 Best Baby Apps for Android

Baby sleeping soundlyEvery week, we bring you AppRx—high-quality health, fitness and wellness apps reviewed and recommended by HealthTap’s network of 63,000 top doctors.

In this week’s edition, we highlight the 7 Best Baby Apps for Android. From helpful checklists and reminders, to baby tracking apps, to white noise apps to help sooth your baby to sleep. Know of another baby app not included in this list? Let us know in the comments section!

 1. My Baby Today

AppRx | My Baby Today | HealthTapDescription: What does every new parent need? Support. Advice. Reminders. Reasons to laugh. Keep it all by your side 24/7, along with a personalized daily calendar, helpful checklists and even a built-in photo album. The free My Baby Today app is here to help you simplify daily life and be the best parent possible through each stage of your little ones development. And its brought to you by BabyCenter, the trusted parenting resource supporting 25 million moms worldwide.

Recommended by: 63 doctors

Price: Free

2. Baby Connect

AppRx | Baby Connect | HealthTapDescription: Baby Connect is the most comprehensive baby tracking application on the Market. It has graphical reports and trending charts, weekly averages, medicine, vaccine, timers, notifications, emails, .csv export, an easy to use interface, unlimited data, and allows you to exchange information in real time with your spouse, babysitter, nanny or daycare wherever they are.

Recommended by: 33 Doctors

Price: $4.99

3. Baby Care – Track Baby Growth

AppRx | Baby CareDescription: Baby Care – Track Baby Growth helps you keep track of your baby’s natural sleep cycle, eating schedule, and bowel movements. Offers multiple reminders to help busy moms and/or caregivers stay on top of feeding schedules. You can even use it to track baby’s mood, vaccinations and medicine, and growth(weight, height, head circumference).

Recommended by: 16 doctors

Price: FREE

 4. The Wonder Weeks

AppRx | The Wonder Weeks | HealthTapDescription: Picking up on the international bestselling book, The Wonder Weeks, and more than 35 years of international scientific research, this app will keep you informed about the (mental) leaps and bounds and the fussy phases of your baby — any time of day or night. By knowing what is going on inside the head of your baby, you can help him to make the leap more easily and stimulate his development.

Recommended by: 10 Doctors

Price: $1.69

 5. Happy Baby

AppRx | Happy Baby | HealthTapDescription: Happy Baby is one of the Must-have pregnancy app for any parent-to-be. Features:

  • Due date: Calculate your due date;
  • Knowledge: Get weekly updates of your baby’s growth, track your symptoms;
  • Add a record: Record any bits and pieces during pregnancy or with your baby via: Photos, Texts, Videos and Recorder;
  • Milestone: List all the record by time and share these with your friends!

Recommended by: 7 Doctors

Price: FREE

6. KidNorm

AppRx | KidNorm | HealthTapDescription: This app is not only used by practicing doctors, but is an official pediatric reference of medical schools and various medical institutions. It is the only app which covers developmental milestones from newborn to age 18. This app also provides growth and sleep pattern information as well as primary and secondary tooth development. In addition to pediatric vital signs, it also covers medical equipment sizes, such as suction tubes and intubation blade sizes for all pediatric ages.

Recommended by: 7 Doctors

Price: $2.99

7. Baby Sitter Seal: Lullaby

AppRx | Baby Sitter Seal: LullabyDescription: One of the best new apps for new mothers to help sooth crying babies. Many research results show that white noise is efficient in relaxing newborn babies. This app features the four most efficient white noises after multiple testing. Pediatricians have approved this app for its safety. The app also features a seal that releases stars, notes, drops of water, and bubbles when touched. UI is intuitive enough for children aged between 1 and 2 years.

Recommended by: 5 doctors

Price: FREE


A Sound Basis for Happy Living: Laughter

A Sound Basis for Healthy Living: Laughter

“Laughter is an instant vacation”  -Milton Berle

We live in a funny world. There are days in which we laugh from the joy of accomplishing extraordinary feats, to instants of belting out from subtle mishaps, to moments of uproarious crying at a priceless joke, to just painfully laughing at the misfortunes of a crappy day.

But, no matter what kind of situation you’re in, laughter is the best friend that slaps you in the face to wake you up then hugs you in that same moment of hysteria. It’s the pre-language social groundwork for communicating our most soulful reactions, understood universally by all.

Evolution of Laughter: Why do we laugh?

Like most of us, chuckling, laughing, and smiling can be seemingly simple tasks. Yet, scientifically, laughter has very complex social contexts and is even classified into different types.

1. Duchenne Smile/Laugh

This is the unconscious, stomach-aching, “ROFL”, “HAHAHAHAHAHA”, face-reddening type of genuine laughter.

19th century neurologist, Guillaume Duchenne (I know, freaking awesome name), determined there were two distinct types of smiles: the one named after himself, and the one not like the one named after himself. A Duchenne smile involves contraction of both the zygomatic major muscle (which engages the muscles that lift the corners of the mouth) and the orbicularis oculi muscle (which raises the cheeks and the puffy bags under our eyes).

This is the type of smile/laughter that is strongly associated with positive emotion and engages are brains to have an “ah-ha!” moment, initiating our learning/attention pathways. Which makes sense, right? Considering we are much more attentive (and attracted) to people that execute genuine humor, along with a more vivid memory of what was said. This ancient trigger dates back millions of years in primates who used this behavior as a tool to play, learn, and explore amongst their peers.

That being said, much has evolved in human behavior since the time of our furry ancestors, making way for another type of smile/laughter that sadly does NOT resemble anything funny.

2. Non-Duchenne Smile/Laugh

Understandably, Duchenne classified this smile/laugh as being dis-genuine and “fake”. I prefer the modern-day expression: the “Botox smile.” The reason being that only the zygomatic major muscle is activated, keeping the cheeks and crow’s feet perfectly intact.

So, the next time you tell a hilarious joke and you notice ONLY the zygomatic muscle is being used…call them out…or just never tell that joke again.

However, this voluntary eremitic smirk is not necessarily a bad thing. More often than not, we use this tactic as a show of politeness. In an age where being aloof in a social setting is more regarded with negative consequences, social culture has taken to utilize a mutually beneficial interaction: the “fake” chuckle. As renowned sidewalk neuroscientist, Robert Provine, once said, “it is a mimicked laughter for the purpose of manipulating and gathering attention to the topic; a form of beneficial social interaction.”

After spending a decade observing laughter all over the world(Laugher: A Scientific Investigation), Dr. Provine, discovered that less than 20% of real-world laughter incidents had anything to do with something resembling humor. In fact, he discovered that the majority (80-90%) of laughter incidents was due to an elicit response to whimsical, mundane social commentary, such as “I’ll see you later!” or “Look at this guy!”

Here’s the cream of the crop of the study: 46% of the time the person talking was more likely to chuckle at what they were saying compared to the person listening (if they were).

Hence, Provine concluded through his observations, that laughter was not just an inherent genetic gift, but also a form of communication.


It’s no coincidence that fits of laughter tend to have a domino effect in larger groups. In a study out of the University of College London, neuroscientists found that specific sound, such as laughter and chuckling are registered in our minds as positive sounds. While, on the other hand, screaming and wailing are indicative of negative circumstances.

All of these sounds activate responses in the premotor cortical region, which is responsible for controlling facial muscles to move in a way that correlates to the type of sound. For example, in parenting, it is genetic for a mother and father to react to a babies screaming by showing facial expressions of worry and concern. This is the brain’s way of alerting parents that there may be a threat. In the case of positive sounds, like laughter, there is a much stronger behavioral response in the brain, inciting a mirroring cue amongst others to laugh. This social precursor is meant to dispel tense situations/alleviate any notion of a threat, as well as prime strong social bonds amongst other individuals.

Food for thought: Why do you think comedians who perform in front of larger crowds are thought to be funnier?

Laugh at my Pain

Comedian Kevin Hart is notorious for creating humor out of unanimously crappy situations. And as he likes to say:

“Don’t laugh, this is some serious sh**.

Well, it should come as no surprise that as a species we thrive on employing laughter as a weapon against overwhelming, traumatic events. Essentially, this is a “matured” defense mechanism that allows us to believe whatever unfortunate event is happening isn’t as bad as it seems; or at least we are left to believe we’ll move through it.  Neuroscientist, V.S. Ramachandran, elucidates in his book, A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness, that laughter evolved as a notification to ourselves and to those around us that imminent threat is not actually there.

Dr. Alex Wickerman’s “Why We Laugh”, brilliantly exemplifies the necessary means for which a resuscitated laugh can slap away our suffering and despair, further manifesting into a wanderlust of “high-life condition.”

Laugh at your Pain

We’ve all laughed at someone falling from having too much to drink, or flailing across the rubber synthetic track while slowly jogging the mile in P.E. But, why do we find it funny, even when we KNOW the situation could be serious and we don’t “intend” to laugh?

Dr. William Fry, psychiatrist and laughter specialist at Stanford University, explains it’s because of two reasons:

  1. “Play Frame”
  2. Incongruity

“Play frame” is a psychological term that basically means your brain is putting a real-life event into a non-serious context.  Which is why you won’t laugh at someone who has the misfortune of falling down a 10-story building vs. someone who trips on the sidewalk.

The other piece to the puzzle is incongruity, which encompasses the idea that one will laugh at something unexpected as long as it follows the rules of a “play frame”.

Here’s what’s really interesting:

The neurons that fire as a result of witnessing such hilarious events are called mirror neurons, which happen to be the same neurons that are highly active during feelings of empathy and imitation. Fry goes on to explain that part of the reason why we find the act of someone tripping so entertaining is because we “imitate” the same scenario happening to us in our minds. Sort of like a “ghost” reality.

I’m Not…THAT…Ticklish

Tickling people can be incredibly rewarding. Being tickled…not so much.

Red/orange/yellow = brain regions activated 

Red/orange/yellow = brain regions activated

The sensation of being tickled originates on the top layer of the epidermis (skin), sending pressure signals to the hypothalamus and anterior cingulate gyrus, regions of the brain that control both pleasurable and painful experiences. This is why you laugh, but also feel uncomfortably violated at the same time.

Evolutionary biologists believe that laughing when being tickled is an innate defense mechanism to thwart predators by expressing submission to an aggressor. It’s kind of like telling someone who wants to fight you, “Hey, are those the new Jordans?” and they gleefully respond, “Yea, man. Thanks for noticing!” Pretty sure that never happens, but I hope you can appreciate my glimmering attempt at providing an adequate analogy.

So, why can’t we tickle ourselves?

The cerebellum (the most posterior region of the brain which controls balance and refined motor skills) already knows from the intent of self-tickling that you will tickle yourself, so it doesn’t waste time on analyzing the physical sensory information of being lightly touched. Basically, you can’t fool yourself…which we are all very thankful for, because no one would ever continuously surprise tickle themselves (also considering how ridiculous that would look).

In an fMRI study by Wattendorf et. al (2012), neuroscientists wanted to specifically target which region of the brain is involved with the laughter associated with tickling, and if the same region is involved for involuntary and voluntary laughter. What they found was the hypothalamus (which controls heart rate accompanied by genuine laughter) and amygdala (which controls emotions) are exclusively excited when subjects unconsciously laughed and forcibly laughed during tickling behavior.

Patients who develop cysts or lesions in specific regions of the hypothalamus have high moods and suddenly burst into constant laughter. So, be wary of that.

Fun Fact: Gorillas and mice laugh like us when they’re tickled too, but they giggle at 50kHz, which is out of our audio range. I know, bummer…


Laughter is our oldest language. It’s a gift that every person on the planet, regardless of culture, disability, and religion is born with. Why not utilize it in every moment when it’s therapeutic powers are unveiled in every social context. And benefits are not just emotional, but physiological too:

  • Stronger immune system
  • Relieves pain by introducing natural painkillers into the body
  • Helps relax muscles and relieve stressful/difficult situations
  • Increases personal satisfaction and a healthy outlook on life and the people around you
  • A better method of getting a 6-pack
    • 15 minutes of laughter = 30 minutes of crunches
  • As good as the benefits of sleep
    • 15 minutes of laughter = same health benefits as 2 hours of sleep

Just practicing the act of smiling, even when your emotions contradict happiness or mirth, will make you happy! The micro muscles in your face are directly linked to neurons and pathways in your brain that signal neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) to release happy chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. Virtually, you can trick your brain into being happy by simply forcing a smile, although I know it’s easier said than done. But, try it…maybe you’ll make it a habit.

When it comes to love, evoking laugher is one of the strongest social cues towards hooking in a mate. Women and men equally seek a partner that can make them naturally laugh and smile. It exudes simultaneous behaviors of confidence, vulnerability, affability, cooperation, deep understanding (even in pain), and obnoxiousness.

Screw the inappropriateness of laughing in serious circumstances and embrace the fact that laughter is the next step forward in all setbacks. Not only can we consciously soothe our own experiences of adversity, but we can encourage others to push through it as well.

Because at the end of the day, how we act, react, and interact IS the domino effect for happy living…so laugh with it.


7 Predictions for the Future of Healthcare

(This post by Sean Mehra, HealthTap’s Head of Product, originally appeared in VentureBeat)

I’ve got an awesome job. Every day, I envision the future of healthcare and strategize how innovative technologies can transform how we give and receive care and, ultimately, make the world a happier and healthier place.

Here are my seven predictions about where healthcare is headed:

1. We will see a democratization of medical knowledge

For thousands of years, the science and art of medicine has been passed down from generation to generation under an apprenticeship model (it’s called “a practice” after all). Today, we have an opportunity to leverage technology to make doctors’ wisdom accessible to all. To date, we’ve published entire encyclopedias of medical knowledge, but they remain largely impenetrable by the mass audience. What’s missing is useful, user-friendly information that guides healthy behavior.

The technology already exists for health information to be published, catalogued, and searched by anybody online. As this trend spreads, this democratization of medical knowledge will offer clinicians worldwide a chance to learn from each other and  improve the quality of care. What’s more, platforms that unlock the crowd-sourced wisdom of the medical community will offer patients immediate access to doctors’ guidance.

2. A transparent meritocracy amongst doctors

Patients typically choose their doctor by either word-of-mouth referral, or online consumer reviews of a doctor’s bedside manner, waiting room decor, or office staff’s disposition — not by the quality of care they provide.  That’s because most consumers aren’t qualified to assess how a doctor’s care affects health outcomes.

But imagine a world where doctors rate each other on the characteristic that matters most: competence. Taken further, imagine if consumers had access to a single score that captured a doctor’s professional reputation as determined by other doctors — a score that combines meaningful indicators such as the impact of their clinical research and academic publications, the number of patients referred to them, and the caliber of their medical training.

A system with this kind of transparency will reward doctors who actually deserve esteem from peers and patients, not just those with access to big marketing budgets, large employers, degrees from elite schools, or extensive social networks.

3. Finally — consolidated patient information!

Despite the increasing prevalence of electronic health records, patient information is stuck in the days of the Wild West. Information is siloed in non-interoperable data repositories, from EMRs to health devices, managed by different parties, and stored in various formats.

While we have more, richer data about each patient today than in past decades, doctors can’t effectively use these data until they are consolidated into a standardized, usable data stream. Favorable regulatory forces are pushing for standards (like the “Blue Button”) that make health information easily retrievable for patients and with increasingly empowered and savvy healthcare consumers. It’s only a matter of time before a platform emerges that can aggregate and safely store patient information in one place.

This kind of platform will, in turn, facilitate the integration of new technologies into healthcare. In addition to prescribing medications, for example, doctors will prescribe apps to capture health data or foster behavior change. Such practice will ultimately become a practical and seamless part of administering care.

4. Tech will catalyze drastic system-wide cost savings and efficiencies

When 30 to 40 million Americans enter the healthcare system in 2014 under Obamacare, our current system will experience enormous demand shock. Without structured change, the influx of previously uninsured patients will yield a shortage of doctors and will strain doctors’ time and resources, particularly among primary care physicians.

To cope, we will need an efficient system to triage health queries and manage patients based on urgency, severity, and available capacity. Furthermore, technology must enable doctors to care for larger patient populations more quickly and without compromising quality of care. Smart dashboards, alerts, reports, automated follow-ups, synchronous and asynchronous communication, and data sharing all will become part of a doctor’s “command center” that helps him or her monitor the health of thousands of patients simultaneously.

Innovation can expand the “production possibilities frontier” for any capital- and labor-constrained market. The potential impact of technology is immense. For example, of the $1.8 trillion spent annually on healthcare in the U.S., roughly $500 billion is spent on doctor-patient visits alone. Roughly 25 percent of these visits are purely informational (no procedures are performed, and no prescriptions are written). If technology can efficiently serve patients seeking such visits, annual healthcare costs could immediately and dramatically drop by $125 billion.

5. Our medical knowledge will advance at record speeds

Medicine will benefit from the wisdom of crowds. With transparent, large-scale knowledge sharing across doctors and patients, medical experts will collaborate to refine treatment regimens, discover new approaches to old problems, and share feedback on unexpected outcomes at a pace previously unimaginable.

By looking at trends in patients’ health questions and concerns in real time (both before and after a doctor visit), the CDC and other health organizations will learn about geographic outbreaks before patients make their way to ERs and waiting rooms. Conceivably, predictive analytical frameworks could detect outbreaks before they happen. Advanced algorithms will also detect correlations between certain medications and unexpected side effects based on patient reports within a particular demographic — correlations that might never be discovered during traditional clinical trials. The possibilities of “big data” are limitless and exciting.

6. Doctors will be trained to bring “care” back into “health care”

06-GET-HELP-VideoChat--HealthTapThe average doctor-patient encounter in the U.S. lasts seven minutes (largely a function of reimbursements being tied to the number of patients seen). As a result, doctors are hard-pressed to find time to build meaningful relationships with their patients.

Not surprisingly, patients often complain about their doctors’ bedside manner. Technology can actually help foster a stronger culture of care in a fast-paced world – when visits are more efficient, doctors have more time to hold a hand, share a smile, alleviate anxiety, and talk with each patient. We’re already seeing medical schools adapt curricula to emphasize making patients feel better not just physically, but also emotionally. Technology will accelerate this trend by providing doctors ongoing access to peer feedback about their medical knowledge and patient feedback about their bedside manner. The result? Making patients healthier and happier.

7. We will see unprecedented market caps

We’re living in an era when many promising ventures will create new jobs, markets, and market values that surpass those of today’s tech companies.  Think about how massive existing health care companies have already grown in terms of brick and mortar facilities, in-person services, and archaic IT systems.

Yet some of the world’s leading technology companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple have already transformed traditional markets (think newspapers, books, and music) into lucrative technology-based markets with lower costs for consumers. Health tech companies can similarly disrupt the multi-trillion dollar health care market — except, in healthcare, the lifetime value of customers is exponentially larger than any other tech industry. This presents a monetization potential never before seen in the business model of tech companies.

The opportunities at the intersection of health and technology will enable humanity to create health and wealth on a global scale — seizing huge business opportunities while generating tremendous positive social impact for everyone, everywhere.

Health is ripe for technological disruption and worthy of the world’s best resources. This industry beckons the brightest engineers, designers, doctors, legislators, and business mavericks to band together and make these predictions a reality. Join the cause!

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 6.35.05 AMSean is HealthTap’s head of product. He is an engineer, designer, science geek, and serial technology entrepreneur leveraging his experiences in consumer internet, biomedical engineering, online social gaming, and UIUX design to make disruptive changes in the U.S. health care industry, enabled by information technology.

Sean earned an M.B.A. from Stanford Graduate School of Business and a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering and Pre-Medicine from Yale University.