North Korea Reports Of An Enteric Disease Outbreak Alongside Its COVID-19 Crisis But Could It Be A New SARS-CoV-2 Variant With Gastrointestinal Tropism?
The situation in North Korea is getting worrisome and the WHO or UN needs to dispatch special teams there urgently to assess what is really going on as the country could be a spawning pool for new concerning SARS-CoV-2 variants that can spillover to the rest of the world!
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife Ri Sol Ju prepare medicines at an unannounced place in North Korea Wednesday, June 15, 2022 to send them to Haeju City where an infectious disease occurred. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. Credit: KCNA
Already despite claims that the country is managing its COVID-19 crisis, reports are emerging that many are seriously sick and are dying.
To add to the concerns, North Korea authorities today announced that the country is facing a new outbreak of an unidentified enteric disease!
Reports from South Korean health authorities said that the "enteric epidemic" in North Korea could be referring to an infectious disease like typhoid, dysentery or cholera, which are intestinal illnesses caused by germs via contaminated food and water or contact with feces of infected people.
However, we at Thailand Medical News
managed to secure more data and think that the SARS-CoV-2 virus could be spawning various new variants in the unvaccinated North Korean population that has many with various untreated medical conditions. There are no antivirals let alone even basic anti-inflammatory drugs in North Korea!
A most probable guess is that new variants of the SARs-CoV-2 that are exhibiting greater gastrointestinal tropism could have emerged and is causing this new enteric outbreak!
Certain SARS-CoV-2 variants are already known to give rise to various gastrointestinal issues and also diarrhea etc
There are no genomic sequencings of samples collected from COVID-19 patients in North Korea and literally no one knows what variants are involved in the current surge there nor if any new variants or subvariants have emerged there.
In the last few hours, government authorities in North Korea simply reported the eruption of another infectious disease in addition to its ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, saying its leader Kim Jong Un has donated his private medicines to those stricken with the new disease.
No one has any clue as to how serious the new epidemic is, but some outside observers claim that North Korea likely aims to burnish Kim's image as a leader caring about public livelihoods as he needs greater public support to overcome pandemic-related hardships.
President Kim on Wednesday offered his family's reserve medicines for those diagnosed with "an acute enteric epidemic" in the southwestern Haeju city, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.
Also, the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper separately carried a front-page photo showing Kim and his wife Ri Sol Ju reviewing saline solutions and other medicines that they were donating.
The Korean Central News Agency
or KCNA didn't elaborate on exactly what the epidemic is and how many people have been infected nor what medicines and what quantities of these medicines was their President donating.
It has been reported that enteric diseases routinely occur in North Korea, which lacks good water treatment facilities and whose public healthcare infrastructure largely remains broken since the mid-1990s.
When North Korea last month reported a rising number of patients with feverish symptoms following its admission of the coronavirus outbreak, South Korea's spy agency said that "a considerable number" of those fever cases included those sick with diseases like measles, typhoid and pertussis.
Dr Ahn Kyung-su, head of DPRKHEALTH.ORG, a website focusing on health issues in North Korea but who is based out of the country commented to media,"The outbreak of measles or typhoid isn't uncommon in North Korea. I think it's true there is an outbreak of an infectious disease there but North Korea is using it as an opportunity to emphasize that Kim is caring for his people. So, it's more like a political message than medical one."
According to state media reports last month, Kim already sent his family's medicines to COVID-19 patients.
The Korean Central News Agency said more than 4.5 million out of the country's 26 million people have fallen ill due to an unidentified fever but only 73 died. The country has identified only a fraction of those as confirmed coronavirus cases due to an apparent lack of test kits in the country. Many foreign experts question the North's death toll, saying that's likely underreported to protect Kim from any political damage.
However other sources are saying that hundred have died from the COVID-19 disease and at present, the situation is so bad that people are actually committing suicides by jumping form public buildings!
Ironically, during a ruling party conference last week, Kim claimed the pandemic situation has passed the stage of "serious crisis." But the country still maintains elevated restrictions that some outside experts say will further strain the country's already troubled economy hit by long-running pandemic-related border shutdowns and U.N. sanctions.
It is very critical that the WHO or UN get teams into the country to assess the situation and also to conduct relevant genomic sequencings.
Drugs, vaccines and other therapeutics and medical equipment should also be donated to the country as humanitarian supplies as the masses there are really suffering.
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