North Korea on Wednesday for the first time announced cases of swine flu, confirming overseas reports of an outbreak in the communist state.
The health ministry has reported nine cases of (A)H1N1 in the capital Pyongyang and in the city of Sinuiju on the Chinese border, the official Korean Central News Agency said.
It noted that the flu outbreak was reported "amid the growing of its victims worldwide".
Authorities put a quarantine system in place to prevent the spread of the virus and centres have been set up nationwide to check for new cases, the news agency said.
South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak told his government on Tuesday to provide swift medical help to the North following reports of swine flu there.
Good Friends, a Seoul-based aid group that has contacts in the North, reported Monday the flu has been spreading rapidly because the anti-viral drug Tamiflu is rare there.
"Assistance must be provided swiftly as the disease could quickly spread in North Korea where conditions are not so good. It's better to send drugs unconditionally," Lee was quoted as saying.
Good Friends said seven youths including three college students died in Pyongyang in November while two others reportedly died in Pyongsong, north of the capital.
Last Friday North Korean schools started winter vacation a month early following a joint meeting of health and education ministry officials, the group said.