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Health Roundup: Meningococcal outbreak; New gene therapy at CHKD; North Carolina Medicaid expansion stalls

Five-year-old Karson gets prepped for an injection that doctors hope will help slow the progression of his muscular dystrophy. (Photo: Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters )
Five-year-old Karson gets prepped for an injection that doctors hope will help slow the progression of his muscular dystrophy. (Photo: Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters )

A statewide meningococcal outbreak, new gene therapy treatment at CHKD and Medicaid expansion delays in North Carolina were all major events in the health world in August. Get a brief rundown of some of the health topics impacting our region and state in our new monthly health topics round-up.

CHKD administers the first dose of a new gene therapy in Virginia

Doctors at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters administered a new treatment for Duchenne muscular dystrophy last week. 

They’re the first in the state to give the injection commercially.

A Hampton boy named Karson got the shot just in time for his 6th birthday. Doctors hope that the one-time dose of medication, Elevidys, will help patients like Karson stay mobile for longer.

Duchenne patients usually lose the ability to walk by age 13, but Director of Neurology Crystal Proud said she saw patients able to ride bikes after the injection. 

Statewide meningococcal disease outbreak is heavily impacting Hampton Roads

The Virginia Department of Health announced a statewide outbreak of meningococcal disease this week. 

There have been 27 reported cases since June 2022 — three times higher than in previous years. 20 of those are in eastern Virginia.

Dr. Laurie Forlano is the state epidemiologist. She said while the disease is still rare, parents should vaccinate their children against it. 

“Meningococcal disease is a vaccine-preventable disease,” she said. “I'd advise parents who have children who are about 11 or 12 years of age or older, to check their vaccine records and talk to their pediatricians or health care providers to make sure their kids are up to date.”

People with the virus will likely experience flu-like symptoms, but some cases can become more severe. 

Officials said they haven’t identified a common risk factor, but most of the cases have been Black patients between 30 and 60.

COVID cases up 77%

A late-summer surge in COVID-19 cases drove hospitalization rates for the virus up by 77% statewide. 

Heather Harmon-Sloan with the Virginia Department of Health told WHRO most of these cases are happening to people 70 and older.

Emergency room diagnoses have also increased every week since June. 

Anthem insurance woes

Bon Secours sued Anthem Health Plans of Virginia for $93 million in unpaid claims at a number of its facilities, including 5 in Hampton Roads.

The health provider alleges Anthem hasn’t altered their rates for a changing healthcare market and lowballed Bon Secours for years. If Anthem doesn’t pay out by October 1, Bon Secours will start turning away Anthem Medicaid customers

Bon Secours is already refusing Anthem Medicare patients.

This isn’t Anthem of Virginia’s first provider hiccup this month — Anthem and Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care reached an agreement right before their contract expired on Aug. 1. 

The agreement means thousands of area patients won’t have to search for new OB-GYNs. Mid-Atlantic Women’s Care operates 19 practices in the Hampton Roads area.

UVA opens a new clinic for teen concussions

UVA Health launched a concussion and traumatic brain injury clinic for young athletes in Charlottesville.

Concussions occur when the face, head or neck is struck and the brain hits the walls of the skull. 

UVA’s clinic for young athletes specializes in concussions that don’t go away within the normal time frame of 5-10 days. According to the American Medical Association, around 30% of kids who get concussions get post-concussive syndrome, where symptoms like dizziness and sleeplessness last longer.

North Carolina Medicaid expansion stalls

North Carolina Medicaid expansion is on hold until the General Assembly passes a budget.

Health and Human Services secretary Kody Kinsley said Medicaid expansion is tied to the budget, and coverage for around 300,000 people will be delayed from the original Oct. 1 expansion deadline. 

The world changes fast.

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