Malaria is spreading rapidly from North Korea and beginning to take root in South Korea, a Seoul research team warned Tuesday.
Soldiers guarding the border were previously the main victims but now an equal number of civilians are being infected, said Seoul National University team leader Chae Jong-Il, a parasitology professor.
"Given that most of the infected civilians reside in villages some 10 kilometres (six miles) or more away from the border, the re-emerging malaria is beginning to be indigenous in South Korea," he told Yonhap news agency.
Chae urged the two Koreas to make joint efforts to stop the disease.
South Korea at one time believed it had eradicated the mosquito-borne disease until a new case emerged in 1993. Since then there have been a total of 23,000 cases as of last year.
Chae identified the epidemic as tertian malaria, which is less lethal than the type found in tropical areas.
South Korea last year shipped medical and other supplies -- including anti-malaria medicines, insecticide, test kits and mosquito nets -- to help impoverished North Korea fight the disease.
The South's financial support for the North's anti-malaria campaigns increased from 530,000 dollars in 2001 to 1.41 million dollars last year.
The number of North Korean malaria patients has declined sharply from 241,190 in 2002 to 9,353 in 2006, according to Seoul.