Melamine, China and milk

The number of infants sickened by China’s melamine milk scandal grows exponentially by the day. The latest number is 54,000 infants hospitalized.

There is one hypothesis suggesting that melamine was added to Chinese powered milk formulas to fool government quality tests when the makers fraudulently added water to the formula.


There haven’t been many studies of human melamine ingestion, so much of the data comes from animal studies. Melamine causes crystal formation, which leads to kidney stones, damage or failure. There are reports of an association with bladder cancer. Irritability, low urine output, blood in the urine and an elevated blood pressure are all possible symptoms.

Treatment is typically conservative, with intravenous fluids to flush the crystals out of the kidney. Surgical removal and urine alkalinisation can be considered for large or refractory stones.

The effects of kidney failure, like an elevated potassium level, need to be treated with appropriate measures. Dialysis is reserved for severe cases.

This event is far-reaching and goes beyond the hospitalized infants. China has a largely unregulated fee-for-service medical system. Many of these patients have to pay out of pocket for a scandal brought upon by lack of government oversight.

Talk about rubbing salt in the wounds.