23 December 2008China has increased to six the estimated number of children who died from drinking dairy products contaminated with melamine, BBC reports.
The health ministry had until now said four infants had died after consuming the toxic compound, used to give the appearance of enhanced protein content.
It also said 294,000 were now known to have fallen ill as a result, five times more than had been originally thought.
The milk scandal, first reported in September, sparked worldwide concern.
Dozens of countries temporarily banned Chinese dairy imports until the authorities in Beijing tightened guidelines and procedures.
Last month, China said it would allow the US Food and Drug Administration to open offices in three cities to help ensure the safety of Chinese food products for export.
In a statement, the Chinese health ministry said its medical experts could not rule out the possibility that six children had died as a result of consuming tainted milk products.
Four of the deaths were recorded in the provinces of Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Guizhou and Shaanxi, and the other two in Gansu, it added.
A total of 294,000 infants are reported to have suffered "urinary system abnormalities" such as kidney stones due to tainted milk. Some 51,900 were taken to hospital and 861 are still admitted.
Chinese media first reported in September that children had fallen ill from drinking formula contaminated by melamine, but officials have since admitted that a major producer, the Sanlu Group, had concealed the problem for several months.
The problem widened in October, when the authorities in Hong Kong reported that melamine had also been detected in Chinese eggs.
Later, state media reported that the chemical was probably being routinely added to Chinese animal feed. ik/fd/9:40
December 02, 2008