North Korea faces infectious disease outbreak amid COVID battle

A banner depicting a scene of medical products being transported on an empty street, amid growing concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), is displayed in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo posted by Kyodo on May 23, 2022. Kyodo via Reuters

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SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea reported an unknown gastro-intestinal epidemic in a farming region on Thursday, adding to pressure on the isolated country as it grapples with chronic food shortages and an unprecedented wave of COVID-19 infections.

The Korean Central News Agency said that leader Kim Jong-un sent medicines to the western coastal city of Haeju on Wednesday to help patients suffering from the “acute intestinal epidemic”, without revealing the number of infected people or specifying the disease.

The term enteric refers to the digestive system.

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“(Kim) stressed the need to contain the epidemic as soon as possible by taking coherent measures to quarantine suspected cases to completely limit its spread, and confirming cases through epidemiological examination and scientific tests,” the agency said.

The reported outbreak comes as North Korea grapples with its first outbreak of COVID-19 infection. A state of emergency was declared last month amid fears of a shortage of vaccines and medical supplies.

South Korea’s spy agency earlier told lawmakers that water-borne diseases, such as typhoid, were already circulating in the country before the coronavirus outbreak was declared.

“Intestinal diseases such as typhoid and shigellosis are not particularly new in North Korea, but what is worrying is that they come at a time when the country is already suffering from COVID-19,” said Professor Shin Young-gyun of Hanyang University School of Medicine at Hanyang University. flood.

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A South Korean Unification Ministry official who handles inter-Korean affairs said, who declined. reveal his identity.

Adding to the problems, South Hwanghae Province, where the city of Haeju is located, is North Korea’s main agricultural region, raising concerns about the potential impact on the country’s already poor food situation caused by the drought.

While the potential for non-specific spread through crops appears fairly low, the key will be to disinfect water supply sources because it is likely to be transmitted through water, said Eom Joong-sik, an infectious disease expert at Jill University Medical Center Gachon University.

Pyongyang has been announcing daily the number of fever patients without identifying them as COVID patients, apparently due to a lack of testing kits. Experts also suspect that the numbers released by the government-controlled media are underreported.

North Korea reported 26,010 more people had symptoms of fever on Thursday, as the total number of fever patients registered across the country since late April reached 4.56 million. The death toll linked to the outbreak was 73.

North Korea said the COVID wave has shown signs of abating, but the World Health Organization disputed Pyongyang’s claims earlier this month, saying it believed the situation was getting worse. Read more

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(Reporting by Su Hyang Choi) Editing by Lincoln Fest.

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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