A soldier who defected from North Korea to the South has Anthrax antibodies in his blood, according to South Korean news reports. The man, who has yet to be identified, escaped from the Hermit Kingdom in November and appears to have been exposed to or vaccinated against the deadly disease prior to defecting to the South.
An anonymous South Korean intelligence official leaked the information to local news station Channel A, claiming that “anthrax antibodies have been found in the North Korean solider who defected this year.” The news has once again raised fears that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is planning to use Anthrax as a deadly weapon against the United States, South Korea and Japan.
Although the defector has not yet been named by South Korean officials, media reports in Seoul suggest that he is the young soldier who was filmed charging across the border a few weeks ago. Oh Chong Song, 24, appeared in a viral video in November where he drove a military truck at full speed toward the Demilitarized Zone, then was shot four times as he ran to climb the border wall. He is reportedly still recovering at a hospital in Seoul.
Oh had bullet wounds to his back, shoulder, arm and knee, but doctors managed to save his life after South Korean soldiers dragged him past a nearby building to safety. He received emergency surgery at Ajou University Hospital in South Korea, where physicians found an “enormous number of parasites” in his body, including an 11-inch-long worm festering in his intestines. He was also infected with Hepatitis-B and potentially — according to South Korean news outlets — Anthrax bacteria. Reports of Oh’s poor digestive health gave the world greater insight into the appalling nutrition and hygiene conditions in which many people in North Korea live.
Anthrax is a bacterial infection caused by Bacillus anthracis which attacks the skin, lungs and intestines. Symptoms begin between one day and two months after coming into contact with the bacteria. How quickly symptoms present depends on type of exposure, skin contact, ingestion or inhalation. It is rare and dangerous, and globally there are only around 2,000 cases of the infection per year. Prior to the 20th century, Anthrax killed hundreds of thousands of people each year. Several countries, including North Korea, have been accused of developing the infection to be used as a biological weapon.
Pyongyang aggressively denies it plans to use Anthrax as a weapon and says that it will “take revenge” on the United States for the allegation. The Korean Central News Agency issued a statement stating that as a member of the Biological Weapons Convention it “maintains its consistent stand to oppose development, manufacture, stockpiling and possession of biological weapons“. However, identifying the bacteria in one of the country’s soldiers has raised an alarm.
North Korea has already been hit with major international sanctions over its intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear tests this past year. Four other citizens, who escaped the country last week, show signs of radiation exposure. All four of them came from Kilju county near to the Punggye-ri test site, where the North has been carrying out its nuclear experiments in large tunnels beneath the mountains. Recent U.S. intelligence reports indicate that Pyongyang is becoming increasingly sophisticated in its nuclear and biological weapons capabilities.