Six Chinese infants may have died from consuming melamine-tainted milk powder, twice the number previously reported by the government, the Ministry of Health said Monday.
The Ministry of Health said it has screened more than 22 million infants and children since September 10 and found that contaminated milk has sickened nearly 300,000 children -- a six-fold increase from the previous total of about 50,000.
China's health officials had investigated 11 infant death cases and ruled out a connection to the tainted milk powder in all but six of those. The government had previously confirmed three infant deaths linked to tainted milk.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organization reported that four infant deaths in China
had been confirmed.
The Ministry of Health found that 294,000 infants have suffered from urinary ailments.
"The majority of sickened children had only small amounts of mud or sand-like (kidney) stones and were treated on an outpatient basis," the ministry said in a statement on its Web site. "Some children suffered from urinary tract stones and needed to be hospitalized."
The peak of the screenings is over and the "seriously ill children are no longer in danger," the ministry said.
Melamine is an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of can liners, flame retardant, cleaning products, fertilizers and pesticides. It does not occur naturally in food.
Because it contains nitrogen, its addition to food products can wrongly suggest an inflated protein content, robbing infants of much-needed nutrition.
Ingesting melamine in large doses over an extended period of time could cause kidney stones and other illnesses, though small amounts pose no such danger for adults, agriculture and health experts say.