By Soo-hyang Choi
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea reported an unidentified gut outbreak in an agricultural region on Thursday, further straining the isolated country as it battles chronic food shortages and a wave of COVID-19 infections. 19.
Leader Kim Jong Un sent medicine to the western port city of Haeju on Wednesday to help patients suffering from the “acute enteric epidemic”, the official KCNA news agency said, without giving details. the number of people affected or identify the disease.
The term enteric refers to the gastrointestinal tract.
“(Kim) stressed the need to contain the outbreak as soon as possible by taking a well-coordinated measure to quarantine suspected cases to completely curb its spread, confirming cases through epidemiological examination and scientific testing” , KCNA said.
An official with South Korea’s Unification Ministry in charge of inter-Korean affairs said the government was monitoring the outbreak, suspected to be cholera or typhoid.
The reported outbreak comes as the North grapples with its first outbreak of COVID-19 infections. He declared a state of emergency last month amid concerns over a lack of vaccines and medical supplies.
South Korea’s spy agency earlier told lawmakers that waterborne diseases, such as typhoid, were already prevalent in North Korea before announcing the coronavirus outbreak.
“Intestinal diseases such as typhoid and shigellosis are not particularly new to North Korea, but what is troubling is that they come at a time when the country is already grappling with COVID-19.” , said Professor Shin Young-jeon of Hanyang University College of Medicine in Seoul.
South Korea is willing to cooperate with the North to fight the outbreak, but Pyongyang remains unresponsive to any offers of dialogue, including Seoul’s earlier offer to provide COVID vaccines, another ministry official said. of unification.
South Hwanghae Province, where Haeju is located, is North Korea’s main agricultural region, raising concerns about possible impacts on the country’s already severe food shortage.
Although the possibility of infections spreading through crops appears low, the key will be to disinfect water supplies as the disease is likely to be waterborne, said Eom Joong-sik, an expert. in infectious diseases at the Gil medical center of the University of Gachon.
Pyongyang announced the number of fever patients daily without specifying them as COVID patients, reportedly due to a lack of testing kits. Experts also suspect under-reporting in figures released by government-controlled media.
North Korea reported an additional 26,010 people with symptoms of fever on Thursday, with the total number of fever patients registered in the country since late April approaching 4.56 million. The death toll from the outbreak is 73.
The North said the COVID surge had shown signs of abating, but the World Health Organization questioned Pyongyang’s claims earlier this month, saying it believed the situation was getting worse.
(Reporting by Soo-hyang Choi and Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)