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The Health Ministry said China had adopted a new H1N1 accounting method earlier this month. If a person was confirmed with H1N1 and then died, the case should be reported as death from H1N1, whether or not there was another condition.
"People responsible will be punished if reports of H1N1 virus cases are held back, lied about or delayed," said Deng Haihua, spokesman for China's Health Ministry, according to a notice on the ministry's website seen today.
Zhong Nanshan, respected by many in China for his candour and work fighting "severe acute respiratory syndrome" (SARS) in 2003, said he did not believe that the national H1N1 death toll of 53, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported yesterday.
Dr Zhong, who is now a doctor based in southern province of Guangdong, said that "some areas have not been testing deaths from severe (pneumonia) and treating them as cases of ordinary pneumonia without any question".
The H1N1 flu strain affects the respiratory tract.
Patients who become severely ill or die typically suffer from pneumonia, either brought on directly by the virus or due to secondary bacterial infections.
The previous method attributed the death to previously existing conditions but not to H1N1, thereby reducing the number of cases reported as H1N1 death cases, a separate notice on the Health Ministry's website said.
A ministry official said it would no longer issue cumulative tolls, only new cases and deaths.
That will make it difficult to determine the actual extent of H1N1 deaths in China, which based on previous figures had been statistically much lower than in other countries.