China said Monday that a total of 294,000 children had fallen ill from consuming dairy products tainted with the industrial chemical melamine, with 154 of them still in serious condition. In a statement on its website, the health ministry also indicated the number of dead may rise from the four previously announced, saying that six deaths since September 10 may be linked to the consumption of melamine-laced milk. The health ministry’s total number of children sickened amid this year’s scandal was a more than five-fold rise from the government’s previous figure given in September of 53,000.

"The use of Sanlu brand milk powder and other problem milk powders led to urinary tract problems in 294,000 children," the ministry’s statement said. Of those, 51,900 had been admitted to hospital. It said 861 children remained in hospital and that 154 were "serious" cases.

Melamine is a chemical normally used to make plastics, but it emerged in September that it had been routinely mixed into Chinese milk and dairy products to give them the impression of having higher protein content.