Deadly Measles Outbreak in North Korean Province Bordering China

nk-kju-hospital-may-2014.jpg This undated picture released by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency on May 19, 2014 shows Kim Jong Un (C) meeting with children at the Taesongsan General Hospital in Pyongyang.

A measles outbreak in a North Korean province bordering China has left at least three children dead this week in what is believed to be the worst attack of the highly contagious disease in seven years, according to a source.

The deaths occurred on Monday after the disease which mainly affects children hit a district near Sinuiju, the capital of North Pyongan province in the northwest of North Korea and a gateway to China, the source told RFA’s Korean Service.

North Korean authorities have tried to hush up the outbreak and have blamed it on North Korean shipping crews traveling to and from China.

North Pyongan province is bounded by water on the west by the Korea Bay and the Yellow Sea, called the West Sea by Koreans.

But the source said Pyongyang has imposed travel restrictions to contain the problem and the Ministry of Health has begun immunizing residents in Yongchun district and Sinuiju.

Measles, one of the most contagious diseases known, is spread through the air.   

“Recently measles broke out in Yongchun district near Sinuiju and spread rapidly,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity from Sinuiju, which borders China’s Dandong city.

“The three child deaths occurred from measles on June 23,” the source said.

According to the source, the measles outbreak was not reported by the tightly-controlled North Korean media and it is believed the Ministry of Health is keeping a tight lid on the issue to avoid being reprimanded “for failing to take anti-epidemic measures.”

2007 outbreak

It is believed to be the worst outbreak in North Korea since 2007, when at least four people died.

North Korean authorities didn’t reveal the gravity of the situation to the outside world then until the number of cases had spiraled.

At that time, a massive vaccination campaign was initiated by the World Health Organization in response to a significant measles outbreak in which 3,500 cases were reported in 30 counties in all of North Korea’s 10 provinces, with densely populated areas particularly affected.

The disease is transmitted via droplets from the nose, mouth, or throat of infected persons.

The authorities believe travel restrictions could contain the current outbreak.

“To prevent measles from spreading, the North Korean government prohibited people living in south of Yongchun district from visiting Sinuiju and also prohibited residents living in Sinuiju from visiting Yongchun district,” the source said.

“Due to the government’s measures, Sinuiju is technically isolated now and it’s hard to know when this situation will end.”

The source said that many people regularly travel to Yongchun district to support farming and that there is concern now about the rapid spread of measles.

Reported by Joon Ho Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Jina Lee. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

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