Parasitic worms and a chronic liver infection identified in a North Korean soldier who defected dramatically are providing clues about health conditions within the dishonest secret state, experts said Wednesday.
The soldier was shot five times until November 13 while he was making a run to the south Korean side of the border through the heavily fortified demilitarized zone, according to the dramatic security video released this week.
North Korean soldiers fired on him about 40 times, beating him with bullets from both pistols and an AK-47, violating the armistice agreement between the two countries after the Korean War, the UN Command said.
The deserter, whose surname is Oh, required emergency treatment for his injuries, including extensive surgery. Doctors discovered a large number and multiple forms of parasitic worms.
Some of the parasites eliminated were up to 27 centimeters (more than 10 inches), according to South Korean doctors who treated him. A type of worm they discovered is typically found in dogs.
"In my 20 years as a surgeon, I've only seen something like this in a medical textbook," Lee Cook-Jong, the man's surgeon, told reporters in November. 15.
In another report on Wednesday, Lee revealed that the soldier also had hepatitis B, which is a serious risk factor for liver cancer.
David Heymann, professor of epidemiology of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told CNN that hepatitis B transmission was generally a good indication of a country's poor sterilization practices in hospitals.
"Hepatitis B is transmitted mainly through unsterilized needles or syringes … or through badual activity," he said.
It is not the first time that a North Korean defector is found to have a large number of stomach parasites or hepatitis B.
A 2015 study of 169 deserters conducted by Dankook University College of Medicine in South Korea found that the 17 women who provided stool samples, seven had parasites.
It was also discovered that one in ten subjects had hepatitis B.
Choi Min-ho, a professor at the Seoul National University College of Medicine who specializes in parasites, told CNN that the use of fertilizers Human diseases in crops and poor sanitary conditions led to the transmission of parasitic cysts in North Korea.
Intestinal worms are usually transmitted through contact with stool or dirty hands. Infections are easily treated with drugs.
"It's a vicious circle that's hard to stop in North Korea, they're so desperate to make ends meet that they can not take adequate preventive measures," he said.
Choi said he believed that at least half of North Korea's population would probably have parasites. "For those who can eat well and are healthy, parasitic infections may not be a big problem, but for the undernourished, this can be much more critical as parasites steal the much-needed nutrition."
North Korea has a long history of food shortages and famines, including a devastating drought between 1995 and 1999 that killed 1 million people.
Meanwhile, the UN World Food Program estimates that up to 70% of the 25 million people in the country still do not consume a "sufficiently diverse diet".
Doctors described the soldier's condition as excellent, with Lee saying that all the parasites had been eliminated from his system.