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China SARS stats exclude military

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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Doctors from the World Health Organization have revealed that Beijing's cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome are largely undercounted.

The misrepresentation came to light when it was revealed the numbers released by the government excluded patients in military hospitals.

China's Ministry of Health had told reporters last week their figures included those in military hospitals.

WHO doctors have estimated that if military patients were included, the total number of SARS cases in Beijing could range from 100 to 200. In addition, the number of people under observation could soar.

As of Wednesday, Chinese health officials reported 37 SARS cases and four deaths in the Chinese capital.

"The virus doesn't differentiate between military personnel and civilians, so it's a problem that military officials don't report their figures to the Beijing government," said Dr. Henk Bekedam, a WHO representative in China.

"The government now realizes this is a problem and needs to be changed," he said.

Doctors from WHO visited two military hospitals in Beijing Wednesday, and talked to the staff of a third, but they are not allowed to discuss details of what they saw without approval from the Ministry of Defense, the organization said.

There was no immediate response from the military.

The doctors who visited the hospitals said, however, they were concerned patients with confirmed cases of SARS and people suspected of having the illness were being housed together.

On Wednesday, China's Ministry of Health reported one death and 10 more cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome on the nation's mainland. ('SARS may be here to stay')

It comes on the heels of Tuesday's report by Hong Kong health officials that said nine more patients suffering from symptoms of SARS had died and 42 more were infected.

The latest figures bring the cumulative number of SARS cases in the Hong Kong region of China to 56 deaths and 1,232 cases. In addition, China's Ministry of Health Wednesday reported 10 more cases for mainland China bringing its total to 1,445 cases and 65 deaths.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization said 22 countries had reported 3,262 cases of SARS with 155 deaths. The numbers represent an increase of 93 cases and 11 deaths since its last update on Monday.

The disease first emerged in China's Guangdong Province last November, but health authorities there failed to notify their counterparts internationally until about four months later, said Dr. David Heymann, director of communicable diseases at the WHO.

According to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control, the disease is caused by a newly recognized coronavirus -- the same virus family that causes the common cold. (Q&A)

Anyone who has traveled to affected countries in Asia, or has been in close contract with someone who has, is advised to be aware of symptoms that include a fever of 100.5 F or higher, dry cough and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

As the disease spreads into the interior of China, WHO doctors are concerned about how poor provinces will find the resources to treat the disease.

CNN Producer Steven Jiang contributed to this report.


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