Scarlet fever in North Korea is threatening to become an epidemic despite measures to contain it, a South Korean news report said.
The infectious disease has quickly spread for almost a month despite strict measures, including a travel ban to and from the affected areas, the Yonhap News agency reported Wednesday, citing an unnamed source close to communist North Korea.
There are no apparent signs that the number of scarlet-fever cases is declining, the source told Yonhap.
People who had recently been to North Korea said scarlet fever had spread from Ryanggang province to other provinces on its border with China.
Late last month, the Daily NK website run by an anti-North Korean government group also reported scarlet fever spreading along the border and the quarantining of the area, citing sources inside North Korea.
The disease has spread so quickly in the country because the immune systems of most North Koreans are weak and the country lacks adequate supplies of drugs.
Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection that produces a rash, sore throat and fever. Without the proper treatment with antibiotics, the disease could produce dangerous complications, especially in children, and could develop into rheumatic fever, which can cause damage to the heart and inflammation of the joints.
Impoverished, isolated North Korea, which is now embroiled in an international dispute over its nuclear-weapons programme, has depended for years on aid from abroad.
According to the UN's World Food Programme, about 37 percent of its children under 6 years and about a third of its mothers are malnourished.