North Korea claims it is battling a new mystery disease in addition to Covid

Kim Jong-un was pictured looking at medication with his wife Ri Sol Ju – leading some to believe the announcement is an attempt to boost his image (Image: AP/Getty)

North Korea is battling a mysterious infectious disease alongside its efforts to contain Covid-19, secretive regime officials have claimed.

However, it’s unclear what exactly “acute enteric” illness is or how severe the outbreak can be.

The country says leader Kim Jong-Un has donated his private medicines to those affected by the disease – whatever it may be.

However, some outside observers suggest the regime is likely just trying to bolster Kim’s image as a leader who cares about his people in order to bolster public support amid pandemic-related hardships.

Another interpretation could be that North Korea would only admit another outbreak if it was severe.

Kim yesterday offered his family backup drugs for those diagnosed with the unspecified “acute enteric epidemic” in the southeastern city of Haeju, the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

It was not said how many people were infected.


A Covid-19 outbreak has hit the largely unvaccinated population (Image: Getty Images)


The North Korean leader and his wife were spotted preparing medicines in state media (Image: AP)

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un holds a meeting at the office building of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) Central Committee in Pyongyang, North Korea, June 12, 2022 to discuss key issues related to the country's Korean Central News Agency. KCNA via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS CANNOT INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE. NO THIRD PARTY SALES. SOUTH KOREA OFF. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALE IN SOUTH KOREA

At a ruling party conference last week, Kim claimed the Covid situation was no longer a “serious crisis” (Image: Reuters).

However, some observers believe that the description of the disease could refer to an infectious disease such as typhoid, dysentery or cholera, which are intestinal diseases caused by germs via contaminated food or water – or contact with the feces of infected people.

Such complaints are routine in North Korea due to the lack of good water treatment facilities.

The public health infrastructure has also been largely broken since the mid-1990s.

Yesterday, the North’s main newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, published a front-page photo showing Kim and his wife Ri Sol Ju checking saline solutions and other medicines they have donated.

It comes after the regime reported a rising number of patients with fevers after admitting it was struggling to contain a Covid outbreak.

Despite vaccine donations from China, the population remained largely unharmed.

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South Korea’s spy agency said that “a significant number” of those fever cases were contracted by diseases such as measles, typhoid and whooping cough.

Ahn Kyung-su, the director of, a website focusing on health issues in North Korea, said: “Outbreaks of measles or typhoid are not uncommon in North Korea.

“I think it’s true that an infectious disease is breaking out there, but North Korea is using this as an opportunity to emphasize that Kim cares about his people.

“So it’s more of a political message than a medical one.”

Last month, Kim also sent his family’s medicines to Covid-19 patients, according to state media reports.

KCNA claimed more than 4.5 million of the country’s 26 million people have contracted an unidentified fever – but only 73 have died.

But the country has only confirmed a fraction of those as coronavirus cases, apparently due to a lack of testing kits.

Many foreign experts are largely skeptical of the north’s death toll, saying it’s likely underreported to minimize the political damage to Kim.

At a ruling party conference last week, Kim claimed the current Covid situation in the country had passed the stage of a “serious crisis”.

Still, Covid restrictions remain in place – which many experts expect will continue to weigh on the country’s economy, which has been hit hard by border closures and UN sanctions.

Meanwhile, tensions with South Korea, the US and Japan escalated with a series of military drills by both sides and fears the North could launch a nuclear test.

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Justin Scacco

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