Scarlet fever has been spreading in North Korea and threatens to become a full-blown epidemic despite efforts by authorities to contain the disease, a news report said Wednesday. The disease, which broke out in the North's northern Ryanggang Province last month, is rapidly spreading to other parts of the communist state, including the capital, Pyongyang, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported, citing unnamed sources.

South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said they didn't have information to confirm the media report. Lack of medicine coupled with poor sanitary conditions are to blame for the rapid spread of the fever in the impoverished communist country, leading to the deaths among the aged and infants, Yonhap said.

Kwon Joon-wook, a South Korean CDC official, said scarlet fever "could be easily treated with antibiotics but it could become a problem" in a country like North Korea, which suffers from a lack of medicine. Scarlet fever is a rash typically seen in children younger than 18, caused by the same bacteria related to strep throat, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The germs carrying scarlet fever are found in the mouth and nasal fluid, and it is spread by people sharing drinks or by someone with the infection touching another's mouth, eyes or nose.


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