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Staff pulled out of the U.S. embassy to Cuba last fall have symptoms that look similar to those caused by concussions, doctors report.
Medical exams of 21 of the staffers show they had headaches, balance problems, sleep disturbances and visual and hearing problems, a team at the University of Pennsylvania reported.
Objective measurements confirm that most had problems with thinking, balance and eye control. Most are still undergoing therapy, the team reports in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
“So, this is really concussion without concussion. I mean it really looks like concussion without the history at the head trauma,” said Dr. Douglas Smith, director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.
The medical reports add more to the mystery surrounding events at the U.S. embassy in Havana. Cuban officials have denied they did anything to the staffers.
Starting in 2016, some staff reported hearing strange sounds and said they were suffering headaches and other symptoms. The federal government started pulling staff out in September and expelled some Cuban embassy staff from Washington in October.
But the descriptions given by the staffers of what happened to them baffled medical and national security experts alike. No known weapon or device causes such symptoms in a way the events were described.
“For 18 of the 21 individuals, there were reports of hearing a novel, localized sound at the onset of symptoms in their homes and hotel rooms,” Smith and colleagues wrote.
“Affected individuals described the sounds as directional, intensely loud, and with pure and sustained tonality,” they added.
“Of the patients, high-pitched sound was reported by 16, although two noted a low-pitched sound. Words used to describe the sound include ‘buzzing,’ ‘grinding metal,’ ‘piercing squeals,’ and ‘humming’,” they added.