North Korea reported a "new epidemic" of an intestinal disease, an unusual announcement from the country already dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak and severe economic turmoil.

The number of people infected in what the official Korean Central News Agency described as an acute enteric epidemic in southwestern Haeju city is unknown.

The disease was not named by the agency, but enteric refers to intestinal illnesses caused by germs in contaminated food or water or contact with infected people's feces, such as typhoid, dysentery, and cholera.

Such diseases are common in North Korea, where water treatment facilities are scarce and the public health system has been largely ineffective for decades.

Leader Kim Jong Un, according to state media, sent his family's reserve medicines to the western port city of Haeju on Wednesday to assist patients suffering from the "acute enteric epidemic," which refers to the gastrointestinal tract.

According to the official Korean Central News Agency, Kim donated medicine from his family's reserves. The front page of the country's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper showed Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, looking at saline solutions and medicine that the paper claimed they donated.

"Kim stressed the need to contain the epidemic at the earliest date possible by taking a well-knit measure to quarantine the suspected cases to thoroughly curb its spread, confirming cases through epidemiological examination and scientific tests," KCNA stated.

Defectors say that in a country where power is concentrated in the hands of a small ruling elite and hospitals frequently lack even basic supplies, it's common for anyone who can to keep stocks of medicine in their homes - and senior officials typically have more than ordinary citizens. According to observers, the donated medicine could have simply come from state storage facilities and been distributed in Kim's name.

Pyongyang declared a state of emergency over the virus after the number of daily confirmed cases in its mostly unvaccinated population reached nearly 393,000. According to South Korea's Yonhap news agency, the number of "fever" cases was just over 26,000 on Thursday.

North Korea's capital city has been publicizing the number of fever patients, but the country is short on Covid testing kits. Many people believe the government is underreporting new cases.

According to KCNA, a national "Rapid Diagnosis and Treatment Team" is collaborating with local health officials, and steps are being taken to ensure that farming in the key agricultural area is not disrupted. Sewage and other waste are being disinfected to ensure the safety of drinking and household water.

South Korea and the United States offered to ship vaccines and other medical supplies after the North first announced the COVID-19 outbreak, but the North has yet to respond.