Reasons to Consider Becoming a Blood Donor

By Francis Mercado, MD

The need for blood donations is constant as it contributes to lifesaving care for patients across the country. But only a small percentage of age-eligible individuals donate annually, which can lead to an imbalance between supply and demand.

In January 2022, the American Red Cross declared a national blood crisis, calling this the worst shortage the U.S. has faced in over a decade. This has significantly impacted patient care and providers have been forced to make difficult decisions around blood allocation.

We urge everyone to consider becoming a donor to help combat this shortage and have provided a few benefits of giving blood to help you make an informed decision.

You get access to a free health screening

Upon volunteering to give blood, you will undergo a health screening to ensure you’re fit for donating. This screening involves measuring your vitals, like blood pressure and heart rate, to uncover any potential issues that could hinder you from donating blood. The Red Cross is also screening all donations for COVID-19 antibodies.

You might discover new health issues

Insight into your overall bill of health does not stop at just the initial screening. If eligible, your blood sample will then be sent to a lab to undergo further testing. These additional screenings include:

If the lab technician detects anything awry, you will be notified and can then seek the proper care. This is especially beneficial if you are someone that does not have access to routine blood testing with a primary care physician.

It may reduce your risk of unhealthy iron stores

Hemochromatosis is a hereditary condition where your body absorbs a higher volume of iron from food you eat, resulting in an iron overload. Though rare (200,000 cases in the U.S. annually), individuals affected typically are not even aware they have it. Because donating involves the removal of red blood cells, giving regularly can reduce harmful levels of iron and mitigate risk for patients with hemochromatosis.

You’re saving lives

Above all, each pint donated supports critical care for patients in need of blood. You could be helping a patient survive a risky surgery or aiding a patient that has lost a high volume of blood due to a traumatic injury. No matter the end source, your donation is guaranteed to make a difference.

Considering becoming a blood donor is more important than ever before and we encourage you to donate. For more information, visit https://www.redcrossblood.org/.

If you need medical attention upon blood analysis, find a Virginia Mason Franciscan Health provider on our website here.


Dr. Francis Mercado is the associate chief medical officer of primary care for Virginia Mason Franciscan Health.

A Parent’s Guide to Calling and Going to the Doctor

**By Carrie Jenner, MD**

If you’re a parent, you’re likely familiar with the woes of caring for your child when they become ill. For some, this time can be filled with a whirlwind of uncertainty and second guessing, particularly if your little one is very sick, or it’s lasted a long time. Questions start to surface like, should you wait it out or is it time to call your pediatrician?

While every situation is different, I’ve compiled the below guide that details some of the most common symptoms and issues and when it comes to your child getting sick. Here, I detail when it might be time to make an appointment or other medical intervention, so your focus can be helping your child feel better.

This guide is not meant to replace medical advice. For any concerns, please work directly with your provider.

Fever

Figuring out the best course of action when your child has a fever will depend on their age. If your baby is less than two months old and has a temperature of 100.4 F or higher, it’s imperative to head straight to the emergency room as they could have a serious infection. At the hospital, your baby will receive a full workup of tests to discover the root cause.

In older children, temperatures will vary a bit more (typically between 100-103 F), so pay attention to other factors as well, such as how your child is acting and how long their fever has been going on. For instance, if their fever is on the lower end but they’re irritable or not eating, it might be wise to give your pediatrician a ring. As a general rule of thumb, fevers tend to run for three days. If your child’s fever lasts longer than this, your pediatrician will be able to help you get to the bottom of it.

Coughing and Sneezing

Coughing and sneezing can be associated with upper respiratory infections such as colds, which children are highly prone to catching. Fortunately, the best thing to do here is to let the cold run its course – which can be up to 10 days for viral infections. As mentioned earlier, take your child in if a fever lasts more than three days.

If your child’s nasal discharge starts to thicken and turn green or yellow, this isn’t quite cause for concern as the cells in their body are likely in infection-fighting mode. However, if your child is struggling to breathe at any point or is flaring their nostrils or ribs when taking a breath, enlist your pediatrician as soon as possible. Additionally, if your child has developed a bluish color around their lips or nails, they’re not getting enough oxygen and you should call 911 right away.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

Generally speaking, stomach viruses typically last 2-3 days. They start with vomiting for 12-24 hours, then diarrhea develops and can last a few days. If your child is unable to hold down any form of liquid or solid for over 24 hours, call your pediatrician. Giving small amounts of clear liquids like Pedialyte frequently is the best way to keep your child hydrated during the illness.

While vomiting and diarrhea are fairly common symptoms, the main concern associated with these is dehydration. Some signs of dehydration to look out for include dark urine, sunken eyes, excess irritability, lack of tears if your child is crying or less than 3 wet diapers in 24 hours.

Rashes and Other Skin Conditions

These can be particularly puzzling as rashes come in many shapes and sizes and can be caused by a variety of things. If your child has a rash but doesn’t seem to be bothered by it, then it’s probably fine to treat it with over-the-counter skin creams. However, if the rash lingers for more than a few days and is accompanied by a fever, give your pediatrician a call as this could be a sign of a larger infection.

Other rash symptoms to make your pediatrician aware of include blistering or bubbling, oozing or bleeding, a rash in the shape of a “target” and rashes accompanied with difficulty breathing.

COVID-19

Though children of all ages can contract COVID-19, they typically do not get as sick as adults. Symptoms in children tend to be on the milder side and present in more of a cold-like fashion, including fever, sore throat, chills, muscle aches, nasal congestion or extreme fatigue. Lesser-common symptoms in children can include a new loss of taste or smell and gastrointestinal issues like vomiting and diarrhea.

Of course, children with underlying conditions like obesity, asthma or diabetes may experience more severe illness than children without. As we continue to navigate the pandemic, it’s better to play it safe and call your pediatrician if you suspect your child might have COVID-19, so they can be tested promptly.

It can be arduous discerning between simply letting your child’s illness run its natural course or involving your pediatrician. If at any point you’re unsure of what to do, it’s always a good idea to err on the side of caution and give them a call – they’ll be more than happy to help you identify the root cause so your child can get on the mend.


Carrie Jenner, MD, is board-certified in Pediatrics and currently practices at Franciscan Medical Clinic – University Place. Dr. Jenner enjoys working with children and their parents to develop healthy lifestyles that will continue into adulthood.

Yes, You Need a Flu Shot This Year — And Here’s Why

**By Christopher Baliga, MD**

Flu season is fast approaching, which means it may be harder for you to tell the difference between a flu symptom and symptoms associated with COVID-19. Those affected with either illness have the potential to run a fever, feel sluggish, and develop a cough and body aches. The good news is, you can protect yourself and others from both diseases by wearing your mask and getting a flu vaccination.

With so many myths and rumors floating around about whether the flu shot is necessary this year, it’s important to listen only to medical experts on this matter. We’re here to provide the facts you need to help keep yourself and those around you healthy.

Since I wear a mask, do I still need a flu shot?

Yes. While masks are helpful in reducing the spread of pathogens, they are not as effective for preventing the flu. By combining mask wearing with  the flu shot, you will lower your risk of catching the flu while protecting yourself from COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses. Just as important, getting a flu shot means you are less likely to spread the disease to others.

Flu.signWon’t a flu shot increase my chances of catching the coronavirus?

There is no evidence to suggest that getting a flu shot will impact your risk of contracting COVID-19. But what we know for certain is that a flu shot will reduce your risk of getting the flu.

Does wearing a mask protect my immune system?

Wearing a mask has no effect on your immune system itself. It does reduce your risk of catching COVID-19 by up to 80%, but wearing a mask does not change your immune system on its own.

Some of us might remember the days when people were opposed to government mandates requiring the use of seatbelts in cars. Similarly, we’ve seen pushback against wearing masks in public. Just like wearing your seatbelt can save your life, masks help reduce your chances of catching COVID-19, while the flu shot reduces your risk of contracting the flu (or reduces the severity of illness if you do get sick). But unlike a seatbelt which only really protects you, masking and getting a flu shot also helps protect those around you.

If you’re in search of where to get a flu shot this year, consider visiting a Virginia Mason drive-thru/drive-up location, open through Oct. 23. Find more information on the location closest to you here.


Baliga, ChrisChristopher Baliga, MD, is board-certified by the American Academy of Internal Medicine in infectious diseases and internal medicine. He practices at Virginia Mason Seattle Medical Center. Dr. Baliga specializes in infectious diseases, HIV/AIDS care and travel health. 

Managing Screen Time in a Virtual Learning Era

**By Traci McDermott, MD**

Many students this year are attending school virtually. This means around eight hours of their day will be spent in front of a screen — far more than the recommended 60-minute daily screen-time limit. This can pose a lot of challenges for parents, who are dealing with having to manage their child’s schooling while balancing working from home. Parents may feel guilty about not being able to limit the amount of time their child is spending on screens.

While you may not be able to control the amount of screen time your children must spend in class, there are many things you can do to help offset your child’s screen consumption outside of school.

Set limits

Take advantage of automatic shut-off settings in order to limit screen time. It’s also more important than ever to ensure you are sitting down and talking with kids about safe internet content and safe use of social media.

Whenever possible, try to limit additional screen time outside of virtual learning to quality social connections with family members or friends. Live chats over Facetime, Skype or Caribu are better than quick texts, SnapChat or other social media platforms that don’t involve real-time conversations. Zoom meetings or practices that help keep kids engaged in their community and with other kids should be prioritized over free screen time use.

Take breaks

No matter if you are a child or a parent, in school or at work, everyone should build a habit of spending 10 minutes away from a screen each hour. You could do this by using a simple kitchen timer or by turning on automatic shut-off settings on your device.

family dance partyMake breaks from school work at home physical – not a game or video on the screen. Turn on music and have a make-shift dance party, or let kids create their own dance routine. Use painters’ tape to create hopscotch on the floor, or encourage them to learn a new active skill, like juggling.

Get physical

Parents should try to prioritize exercise or active play with their kids for 60 minutes most days. This will take away time spent in front of a screen.

If your child has an already established physical routine due to team sports or practices during normal times, do your best to keep a similar schedule. Your child might be used to a 30-60 minute practice two or three times a week at, say, football practice. Encourage them to continue that same schedule by keeping their bodies moving in some way on their own. With no games to attend on the weekends, the whole family could instead go for a walk or run, or have your own scrimmage in the yard (or closest open green space).

You can even consider virtual physical classes, like online workouts. Yes, this is inviting another screen into your child’s day, but in moderation, these encourage kids to move and exercise, which is beneficial to the body as a whole. Also, many dance classes have been shifted to virtual, which help kids keep social connections and stay active. This can be a good indoor option once the weather cools down.

Unplug at night

 Consider setting a limit for your child to ditch the phones, video games and YouTube videos no less than an hour before bed each night. Some parents even opt for “family charging stations,” where all electronics live at night to help kids (and parents, too!) unplug when it’s time for sleep.

Of course, these tips are not one-size-fits-all. While many families are able to easily set limits for their children, there are just as many where setting limits will pose a significant challenge.

If you’re worried that your child is still spending too much time in front of a screen even after following these steps, make sure to look for the following warning signs. Seek medical help if your child:

  • Develops problems sleeping
  • Develops regular/daily headaches
  • Has significant weight change (either gaining or losing)
  • Has emotional withdrawal

Good luck! Remember, making sure your child’s sleep and exercise needs are met will significantly reduce the overall time spent on screens, while boosting their readiness for virtual learning.


Traci.McDermott MDTraci McDermott, MD, specializes in Pediatrics at Virginia Mason University Village in Seattle. Dr. McDermott is an American Board of Pediatrics-certified practitioner.

Helping Your Child Wear a Mask During COVID-19

**By Rebecca Partridge, MD**

If you are a parent of a young child during the pandemic, you know firsthand how hard it can be to explain what is going on and why your child must wear a face covering when in public places or around people outside of your household. I’m sure many of you have felt like giving up on having your little ones mask up.

As a parent myself, I recognize that teaching children the importance of wearing a mask has its challenges. Still, I’m here to tell you that even if your child is struggling with this new directive, you can do it! It’s just going to take time and persistence. Current CDC guidelines state that anyone able to wear a mask, excluding children under 2 years of age, should do so in order to keep each other safe. Advice for younger children includes prioritizing mask wearing for times when it is difficult to maintain a distance of 6 feet from others, such as in carpools or when standing in line. 

mom-maskAs a mother and a physician who sees many parents struggling when it comes to teaching their young children why and how to wear their masks, I’ve come up with a few kid-friendly tips.

Get them excited about it

I’ve found that kids respond well to masks featuring their favorite cartoon characters or other designs that excite them. By providing your child with different choices in terms of the color, shapes, styles and features on the mask, you can turn something that is foreign and uncomfortable into something exciting and actually fun. Many children love to look like Spider-Man or Minnie Mouse; if their mask gives them an opportunity to “become” their favorite characters, your child is more likely to wear it. Parents should also express their own enthusiasm for masking up when around their kids to serve as an example that hopefully gets followed.

Gradually increase mask time

I’m hearing from many parents that their child is willing to try on the mask, but that they can only keep it on for a few seconds before they get bored and take it off. Parents should work with their child on wearing a mask for short periods of time to start and then graduate to longer periods of mask wearing. Try doing a countdown with your kids, distract them by playing their favorite video or giving them their favorite toy. Provide praise and positive attention when they keep the mask on. Do this until your child is able to keep the mask on for the time needed to run an errand in public or other activities you’d like to enjoy with your family.

Read stories with your child that include mask-wearing characters

For children who are having a really hard time tolerating wearing a mask, consider reading books to them about the topic. Book characters might go into the steps of putting on a mask or its importance to protect one’s health and those around them. Hearing and seeing these behaviors in a child-friendly format might resonate with your child, helping them better understand why mask-wearing is so important.

Don’t give up!

It will take time to get your child used to wearing a mask. Continue to employ these steps and your efforts will pay off. If your child is still having trouble after trying some of the advice above, you might consider a face shield. Although a mask is the best way to keep your child and others safe, a face shield is a good option for parents of kids who might be more sensitive to touch or having things touching their faces. In these cases, a shield can be a good introduction in teaching your child to wear a mask later on. 

Meanwhile, don’t forget to give yourself credit for everything you’re doing to support your family during such a challenging time. Good luck and be well!   


Rebecca Partridge

Rebecca Partridge, MD, is a Pediatrics specialist at Virginia Mason Issaquah Medical Center. Dr. Partridge is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. Her medical interests includes general pediatrics, Down syndrome and emergency pediatrics.