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Havana Syndrome: symptoms and possible cause

A new report investigating the mysterious illness with disturbing symptoms in US and Canadian officials in Cuba and China sheds light on possible cause.

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Havana Syndrome: symptoms and possible cause
YAMIL LAGE AFP

Between 2016 and 2017, a curious illness started cropping up in employees in the US embassy in Havana. Symptoms included dizziness, loss of balance, hearing loss, anxiety and something they described as "cognitive fog", and it was affecting staff at the embassy as well as their families.

It picked up the name “Havana Syndrome.”

Possible explanations have included everything from mosquito fumigation to noisy crickets

It was thought by some outsiders that mass hysteria could be responsible, but doctors at the University of Pennsylvania who evaluated the patients through advanced brain imaging found differences in their brains, including less white matter and connectivity in the areas that control vision and hearing than similar healthy people.

The US was quick to blame Cuba and Russia accusing them of carrying out “sonic attacks”, which Cuba strongly denied.

Canada made cuts to embassy employees in Cuba after 14 cases were reported there as well.

It’s not just in Cuba though, related symptoms also arose in staff working in China, leading to staff cuts there too. Back in 2018 US officials working in Guangzhou had been reporting "subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure". One US official was diagnosed with mild brain trauma, according to a BBC report.

Havana Syndrome: caused by directed, pulsed radio frequency?

A new study by the US body the National Academies of Sciences has now found that many have suffered longstanding and debilitating effects. It posits that the cause of the strange illness could be “pulsed radio frequency.”

“The committee felt that many of the distinctive and acute signs, symptoms and observations reported by (government) employees are consistent with the effects of directed, pulsed radio frequency (RF) energy,” the report says.

“Studies published in the open literature more than a half-century ago and over the subsequent decades by Western and Soviet sources provide circumstantial support for this possible mechanism.

It goes on to explain that while psychological and social factors could be partly responsible for the syndrome, those could not account for “the acute initial, sudden-onset, distinctive, and unusual symptoms.”

While important questions remain, the report continues “the mere consideration of such a scenario raises grave concerns about a world with disinhibited malevolent actors and new tools for causing harm to others, as if the US government does not have its hands full already with naturally occurring threats,” noted the report.

There has been "significant research in Russia/USSR into the effects of pulsed, rather than continuous wave [radio frequency] exposures". It said that military personnel in "Eurasian communist countries" had been exposed to non-thermal radiation.

What did Trump say about Havana Syndrome?

Donald Trump blamed the episodes on the Cuban government, saying: “It’s a very unusual attack, as you know. But I do believe Cuba is responsible.

“We are pleased this report is now out and can add to the data and analyses that may help us come to an eventual conclusion as to what transpired,” a state department source told the New York Times.