More than two dozen diplomats stationed at the US embassy in Cuba suffered genuine in-ear damage after a mystery illness caused “intense” pain and dizziness, a study by the doctors who first treated them found.
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The series of unexplained cases had prompted fears that the diplomats were intentionally targeted by Cuba with some kind of futuristic sonic weapon and even led the US embassy to downsize its staff in Havana last year out of concerns for their “health, safety, and well-being.”
The new study, conducted by physicians at the University of Miami and the University of Pittsburgh published in the Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology journal, found that all of the individuals had suffered “unsteadiness and features of cognitive impairment.”
In total, 25 people had reported intense pain in one or both ears as well as tinnitus, a ringing in the ears. The doctors confirmed that the patients displayed “abnormalities in the otolithic organs” which help maintain the body’s balance.
“We’re not saying it’s not an injury to the brain. It may be,” said Dr. Michael E. Hoffer, the lead author of the report, speaking to reporters on Wednesday. “We do know, for sure, that it’s an injury to the ear and that the brain is affected.”
Dr. Carey Balaban, another professor who worked on the study confirmed that doctors have “measurable, quantifiable evidence that something really did happen” to the patients. “It’s not just hysteria,” he said.
As for what caused the mystery illness to strike — or indeed whether or not it was deliberate — the doctors are still unaware. Hoffer, who is also a former military officer, told the Miami Herald that“evidence suggests”the diplomats were targeted but that the doctors “cannot prove” it.
The study found that most of the individuals reported hearing a loud, high frequency and very localized sound which was “capable of following them throughout a room” before their symptoms hit.
Some reported a “sensation of pressure passing through their head and abdomen in certain parts of the room that could be relieved by moving a few feet away,” the report said. For some it was almost like they were caught in a temporary “force field.”
Within 18 hours of experiencing the strange sounds and sensations, the individuals reported feeling dizzy, unbalanced and disorientated with a lack of mental clarity and a shorter attention span. Strangely, however, ten people who lived in the same house as the affected individuals felt nothing and had no symptoms. The lack of symptoms in the unaffected group “points to the fact that the exposure showed was both fairly precise and delimited in space and time,” the report said.
An investigation by the FBI has not shed any light on the cause of the unexplained illness. In 2017, the Trump administration expelled 15 staff from the Cuban embassy in Washington, but never officially accused Cuba of being behind the incidents. Then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the expulsions had been ordered due to Cuba’s “failure to take appropriate steps” to protect US diplomats.
"These tests that we did cannot be faked," says Dr. Michael Hoffer, who first treated the US diplomats in Havana who fell ill after experiencing strange sounds & symptoms – https://t.co/h3HXsvuox0
— Josh Lederman (@JoshNBCNews) December 12, 2018
US diplomats aren’t the only ones who reported mystery illnesses while stationed in Cuba. Canada also reported 13 cases of unexplained health problems at its Cuban embassy since the beginning of 2017.
Cuba denies having anything to do with the illness. In a speech on Wednesday Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, Cuba’s director-general of US affairs, said Cuba didn’t “doubt” that US diplomats “may have suffered some ailments” during their stays, “but this does not ensure that the origin of the disease is linked to their stay in Cuba.”
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