World Health Organization experts say China is reporting only a fraction of the cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, in Beijing. The finding follows Chinese pledges to be more open about SARS in the country.
WHO disease control scientists report that the number of SARS cases in Beijing is far higher than the tally of 37 given by China's Health Ministry.
WHO experts have been visiting hospitals, interviewing doctors and examining patients. They say they found a number of unreported cases in Beijing hospitals run by China's military.
"I would guesstimate the range maybe 100 to 200, somewhere between there," said Alan Schnur, part of the WHO team.
WHO virologist Wolfgang Preiser said Chinese officials asked the United Nations agency to reveal few details to the public about the military-run hospitals. "We were clearly asked not to give a detailed account of what we saw at the respective treatment hospitals unless that has been cleared by the Ministry of Defense, explained Mr. Preiser.
Officials say perhaps 1,000 more patients in Beijing are being watched to see if they have the disease.
WHO is calling for improvements in China's system of disease reporting, and much better efforts to communicate with its citizens, doctors, and the rest of the world.
SARS has infected more than 3,200 people around the globe since it first appeared late last year in southern China. More than 150 people have died of the disease, which causes severe flu-like symptoms and often develops into an unusual form of pneumonia.
China has seen more than 1,400 of SARS cases and reported at least 64 deaths.
For months after the disease appeared in China, the Beijing government withheld information about its seriousness. Countries around the world have criticized China for its secretiveness. Many governments warn their citizens to avoid traveling to China, and several foreign government officials have canceled visits to the country.
In the past two weeks, Beijing had pledged to cooperate with WHO. The government also kicked off a campaign this week to warn its citizens about SARS and began new efforts to contain it, such as quarantining suspected victims and cleaning public transportation systems.