It was a medical mystery that began in 2016, involving U.S. Embassy employees and a number of other Americans stationed in Havana, Cuba, that began falling ill.
Now, half a world away in Guangzhou, China, the U.S. State Department says they have evacuated two more employees who appear to have been stricken with symptoms remarkably similar to those that surfaced in Cuba more than a year ago. While theories exist as to the cause of the mysterious “sickness,” it remains undetermined what, precisely, the true cause may be.
The latest spate of illnesses was reported earlier this week, when two adult employees at the American Consulate in Guangzhou, south China, were evacuated after displaying “neurological symptoms,” the New York Times reported. Symptoms of the odd ailment that began to affect U.S. employees in Havana, Cuba in 2016 include hearing loss, nausea, disorientation, and a host of other conditions.
All of those affected report one thing in common: that they heard “strange sounds” prior to exhibiting symptoms of the mystery illness.
Concern over the cause of the strange illness led to accusations against Cuban authorities, with the allegation that they might have employed monitoring equipment covertly which had an adverse effect on those nearby. However, with reports of the strange “sound sickness” now stemming from the U.S. Consulate in southern China, U.S. officials are reportedly concerned that another foreign power–possibly Russia–may be involved.
Following the initial round of incidents, the State Department warned its employees about “any unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena accompanied by unusual sounds or piercing noises,” and further directed those who experienced the phenomena, “do not attempt to locate their source.” While the cause of the noises–and the neurological symptoms reported in conjunction with them–remain unknown, even former U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson referred to the incidents as “attacks.” Tillerson’s successor, Mike Pompeo, has used similar language in relation to the incidents, noting the similarity to the 2016-2017 Cuban incidents and those which began to occur in China back in April.
A study which looked into the cause of the alleged “attacks” that occurred in Havana, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found “persistent cognitive, vestibular, and oculomotor dysfunction, as well as sleep impairment and headaches, were observed among US government personnel in Havana, Cuba, associated with reports of directional audible and/or sensory phenomena of unclear origin.”
The report also noted in its conclusion that, “These individuals appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks without an associated history of head trauma.” The study was carried out at University of Pennsylvania Medical School’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair earlier this year.
Washington Post reported on skepticism that now surrounds the aforementioned study, noting that, “doctors detected no clear physical origin in the brain: Eighteen of the 21 patients showed nothing unusual on a brain scan, and the other three had “mild” or “moderate” damage to white matter that the investigators acknowledged could be due to preexisting disease processes.”
Perhaps one of the most searing criticisms of the Pennsylvania study was issued by Robert McIntosh, Ph.D. and Sergio Della Sala, MD, Ph.D. of theUniversity of Edinburgh, who wrote in The Psychologist that, “We should be much more worried about reputational damage to neuropsychology, and psychology in general, than about any sinister new sonic weapons.”
In a statement issued by University of Pennsylvania’s Medical School, they noted they are “continuing to work with the Department of State to evaluate and treat personnel who have reported audible phenomena experiences,” further noting they are “not able to provide specifics about different patient groups at this time.”
To date, everything from the insinuation of mysterious “sonic weapons” to Jamaican field crickets (seriously) have been suggested as possible sources for the strange, sickening noises. However, with the new reports of Americans who fell ill under remarkably similar circumstances in Guangzhou, China, could we end up seeing the results of the Penn State report being vindicated after all?