Several North Korean Defectors Are Infected With A Bizarre "Ghost Disease" That Baffles Doctors

It’s hard to think about North Korea without the association of nuclear weapons, but the concern here is often involved with those in danger outside of the country. However, people who have escaped from North Korea have their own stories to tell…that is, if they can live to tell them. 

It’s no secret that the incredibly isolated country is built on a foundation of outrageous, state-generated mythology and governed by equally bizarre laws. However, the mystery shrouding living conditions in North Korea has long-prevented Westerners from understanding just exactly what goes on in daily life. Recently, there have been more and more reports of a "ghost disease," named for the high number of fatalities that are rapidly stacking up. Thought, but not proven, to be associated with radiation poisoning in North Korea, scientists are stumped as to how exactly the ghost disease works, why it's killing so quickly, and why now, of all times.

Working from the evidence they have, which is largely just the bodies of afflicted defectors, the world is trying to piece together the facts about the mysterious, North Korean ghost disease.

  • Deformed Babies And Corpses In The River: Welcome To Pungyye-Ri

    Of the 30 some deflectors that have come forward with the Ghost Disease, all hail from the Kilju Region in North Korea, which, not so coincidentally, is home to Punggye-Ri, an infamous nuclear testing site.

    Even before the Ghost Disease became a globally recognized phenomenon, Punggye-Ri was already home to several large-scale tragedies, including an unannounced test that is rumored to have triggered an earthquake that killed 150 school children, and a tunnel collapse that claimed another 200 lives

    Kilju is seemingly marked by disaster and illness associated with Punggye-Ri. Other headlines this year include numerous reports of deformed babies and corpses floating downstream from the testing region. 

  • Chronic Pain And Crippling Deformities: The Slow Road To Death With The Ghost Disease

    Chronic Pain And Crippling Deformities: The Slow Road To Death With The Ghost Disease
    Photo: Youtube

    The few defectors who have even managed to make it out of North Korea mostly suffer the symptoms of a chronic pain that afflicts their entire body, and includes brutal headaches and frequent vomiting. However, their reports of incredibly deformed infants are also associated with the disease.

    As one defector said, "“I heard from a relative in Kilju that deformed babies were born in hospitals there." In North Korea, it is allegedly common practice to kill deformed babies, and hence evidence of these births in the already highly-guarded country is nearly impossible to come by.

    Another defector by the name of Rhee Yeong Si, said that her neighbor gave birth to a baby without any genitals. The parents killed the baby themselves, but this is thought to be a gruesome example of just what the ghost disease is doing to the extremely poor communities in the Kilju Region.

  • It's Textbook Radiation Poisoning...Except For The Absence Of Radiation

    It's Textbook Radiation Poisoning...Except For The Absence Of Radiation
    Photo: Youtube

    The painful symptoms, deaths, and deformities associated with the Ghost Disease align perfectly with affects of radiation poisoning. It is also undeniable that citizens living in the Kilju Region are being exposed to some level of radiation, given the increased number of testings over the last year. 

    So, it seems very clear that the Ghost Disease is somehow directly related to the nuclear testing events. Except for one thing: all deflectors that have been tested and treated for radiation in South Korea all received negative radiation test results. As in, no, there is zero evidence of radiation in their bodies, or at least nothing over normal levels.

  • Everyone Was Dying, But Nobody Knew Why

    Everyone Was Dying, But Nobody Knew Why
    Photo: Youtube

    Due to the extreme measures taken to ensure secrecy and isolation from the outside world, it's hard to fathom just exactly what goes on in daily life for the average North Korean citizen. One thing that is clear is that outside of the capital of Pyongyang, rural areas are primitive in comparison. 

    No stranger to droughts and famines, North Korea has a very high rate of malnutrition and malnourishment, with a recent report surveying that 1 in 4 children suffer from malnutrition. Hence, when citizens in the Kilju Region began dying mysteriously in large numbers, it wasn't too out of the question that it was associated with poor diet and extremely scarce food resources. 

    "We thought we were dying because we were poor and we ate badly," said one deflector, Lee Jeong-hwa, who suffers from the Ghost Disease. After seven years of failure, Lee finally escaped to South Korea, where doctors began to try to treat her condition. As more and more deflectors were able to share their stories with South Korea and hence the outside world, all fingers began pointing back to Punggye-ri, and the toxic radiation from the numerous testings.

  • The Ghost Disease Kills More than Just People

    The Ghost Disease Kills More than Just People
    Photo: Youtube

    It seems that nothing can survive in the Punggye-Ri area associated with the Ghost Disease. Residents of the surrounding areas are reporting that the region is turning into a, "wasteland," with newly planted trees dying, along with any older growth and vegetation. In addition to this, there are reports that the wells are drying up in the area. This does nothing to help the already-rampant problem of malnutrition in the Kilju Region, along with many other rural parts of the country. 

    One theory suggested is that the area is affected by what is known as "Tired Mountain Syndrome," in which the surrounding rocks have been permanently damaged and made brittle due to the repetitive explosions from the testing sites. This would account for vanishing well water as the water table dries up with the geologic disturbances, as well as disrupted vegetation growth. However, it still can't directly explain the debilitating and lethal symptoms the communities are experiencing. 

  • How The Hell Do You Even Flee A Dictatorship, Let Alone While Suffering From A Mysterious Disease?

    Of the roughly 25 million people that live in South Korea, only about 1,000 or so manage to flee every year; but there are a lot more than that trying. Many try to escape out of sheer desperation; from what little news the outside world can gather, North Korea has become an infamously difficult place to live. As recently as the 1990s,  The Great Famine, or, "Arduous March," as it was spun in propaganda, claimed the lives of one million citizens and people were reduced to surviving off of tree bark and roots. 

    The escape from North Korea is not an easy one, especially since Kim Jong Un has tightened security since coming into power in 2011. North Korea shares borders with China to the north, South Korea to the south, and is flanked by the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea. Defectors have to make it past machine-gun wielding border guards, and if they manage to do so, often fall into the hands of human traffickers posing as "guides." China has been accused of violating human rights and the Geneva Convention by sending defectors back to their country, meaning that even if you escape to the north, you're not guaranteed safety. Women are raped frequently, and often sold by these traffickers, for less than $100. 

    To the south, the Korean Demilitarized Zone was established as a buffer between the two countries, measuring roughly 160 miles long and around 2.5 miles wide. A veritable no-man's land, defectors attempting to cross it must make it through heavy artillery on the North Korean front, and then across the dangerous strip to safety in South Korea. Boats are a popular option as well, to either China or Japan, but face the potential problems of general navigation and safety.