US diplomats in Cuba not victims of sonic attack

New study rubbishes ‘exotic explanations’ for Havana Syndrome

(Image credit: YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images)

The mysterious illness that spread among US embassy staff in Cuba was not down to a “sonic attack”, but emotional trauma and fear, says a new report.

At least 22 diplomats were reported to have suffered brain abnormalities, hearing loss, headaches, nausea and fatigue during the autumn of 2016, prompting the US to accuse Cuba of sonic attacks.

The accusations caused a diplomatic row, with the US sending many of its staff stationed in Havana home, despite Cuba’s dismissal of the claims, says Sky News.

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Now a leading sociologist and an expert in neurodegenerative diseases have said it was more likely to have been emotional trauma and fear that caused the symptoms.

Dr Robert Bartholomew and Dr Robert W Baloh said that the concussion-like ailments of “Havana Syndrome” are down to something akin to shell-shock, caused by the stress and uncertainty of living in a hostile foreign country where diplomats are under constant surveillance.

The study, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, said: “A characteristic feature of combat syndromes over the past century is the appearance of an array of neurological complaints from an overstimulated nervous system that are commonly misdiagnosed as concussions and brain damage.”

Diplomatic staff complained of health problems after hearing strange grating or vibrating sounds at home or in hotel rooms, which they said were coming from a specific direction. Other people nearby reported that they could not hear the sounds.

Professors at the University of Pennsylvania published a study earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing “something happened” to the brains of diplomats and the symptoms were “not imagined”.

They looked at the brains of 44 US diplomats and family members who had been stationed in Cuba and found they had less white matter, which could affect the brain’s ability to send messages and impact auditory and spatial functions, says the BBC.

But the new study from Bartholomew and Baloh suggests that previous studies on Havana Syndrome had “critical design flaws”.

“There is no need to resort to exotic explanations. Claims that the patients were suffering from brain and auditory damage are not borne out by the data.

“The political and scientific evidence for the perpetration of an attack on US embassy staff in Cuba is inconclusive,” the study says.

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