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(THE CONVERSATION) In early September 2021, a CIA agent was evacuated from Serbia in the latest case of what the world now calls “Havana Syndrome”.
Like most people, I first heard of Havana Syndrome in the summer of 2017. Cuba allegedly attacked employees of the United States Embassy in Havana in their homes and rooms. hotel using a mysterious weapon. Victims reported various symptoms including headache, dizziness, hearing loss, fatigue, mental fog and difficulty concentrating after hearing a strange sound.
Over the next year and a half, many theories were put forward regarding the symptoms and how a weapon may have caused them. Despite the lack of hard evidence, many experts have suggested that some weapon was causing the symptoms.
I am a professor emeritus of neurology studying the inner ear and my clinical focus is dizziness and hearing loss. When news of these events broke, I was taken aback. But after reading the patient’s symptom descriptions and test results, I began to doubt that a mysterious weapon was the cause.
I have regularly seen patients with the same symptoms as Embassy staff in my Dizziness Clinic at the University of California, Los Angeles. Most have psychosomatic symptoms, which means the symptoms are real but result from stress or emotional causes, not external causes. With a little comfort and a few treatments to alleviate their symptoms, they get better.
The data available for Havana Syndrome closely matches mass psychogenic illness – more commonly referred to as mass hysteria. So what is really going on with what is called Havana Syndrome?
A mysterious disease
In late December 2016, an otherwise healthy undercover officer in his 30s arrived at the US Embassy clinic in Cuba, complaining of headaches, hearing difficulties and sharp ear pain. The symptoms themselves were not alarming, but the officer reported that they developed after hearing “a beam of sound” which “appeared to have been directed towards his home”.
As word of the alleged attack spread, others in the embassy community reported similar experiences. A former CIA officer who was in Cuba at the time later noted that the first patient “was lobbying, if not coercing, people to report symptoms and make the connection.”
Patients at the US Embassy were first referred to ear, nose and throat doctors at the University of Miami, and then to brain specialists in Philadelphia. Doctors examined embassy patients using a range of tests to measure hearing, balance and cognition. They also took MRI scans of the patients’ brains. Of the 21 patients examined, 15 to 18 presented with sleep disturbances and headaches as well as cognitive, hearing, balance and visual disturbances. Despite these symptoms, brain MRI scans and hearing tests were normal.
A flurry of articles appeared in the media, many accepting the notion of attack.
From Cuba, Havana Syndrome began to spread around the world to the embassies of China, Russia, Germany and Austria, and even the streets of Washington.
A sonic weapon or a microwave?
Initially, many experts and some doctors suggested that some sort of sonic weapon was to blame. The Miami team’s 2018 study reported that 19 patients had dizziness from damage to the inner ear from a type of sonic weapon.
This hypothesis has been largely discredited due to flaws in the studies, the fact that there is no evidence that a sonic weapon can selectively damage the brain and nothing else, and because biologists have identified sounds in recordings of the weapon believed to be a Cuban species of cricket.
Some people also came up with an alternative idea: a microwave radiation weapon.
This hypothesis gained credibility when in December 2020, the National Academy of Science released a report concluding that “pulsed radio frequency energy” was a likely cause of symptoms in at least some of the patients.
If someone is exposed to high energy microwaves, they can sometimes hear sounds briefly. There is no real sound, but in what is called the Frey effect, neurons in a person’s ear or brain are directly stimulated by microwaves and the person can “hear” a noise. These effects, however, are nothing like the sounds described by victims, and the mere fact that the sounds were recorded by multiple victims eliminates microwaves as a source. Although there are directed energy weapons, none to my knowledge could explain the symptoms or sounds reported by embassy patients.
Despite all of these stories and theories, there is one problem: No doctor has found a medical cause for the symptoms. And after five years of extensive research, no evidence of a weapon has been found.
Mass psychogenic illness
Mass psychogenic illness is a condition in which people in a group feel sick because they think they have been exposed to something dangerous – even though there has been no actual exposure. For example, as phones became widely available around the turn of the 20th century, many telephone operators fell ill with concussion-like symptoms attributed to “acoustic shock.” But despite decades of reports, no research has ever confirmed the existence of acoustic shock.
I think it’s much more likely that a mass psychogenic illness – and not an energy weapon – is causing Havana Syndrome.
Mass psychogenic illness usually begins in a stressful environment. Sometimes it starts when someone with an unrelated illness believes something mysterious has caused their symptoms. This person then spreads the idea to those around them and even to other groups, and it is often amplified by overzealous health workers and the media. Well-documented cases of mass psychogenic illnesses – like the dancing plagues of the Middle Ages – have occurred for centuries and continue to occur regularly around the world. The symptoms are real, the result of changes in brain connections and chemistry. They can also last for years.
The story of Havana Syndrome strikes me as a textbook case of mass psychogenic illness. It all started with just one undercover agent in Cuba – someone in what I imagine to be a very stressful situation. This person had real symptoms, but blamed them on something mysterious – the strange sound he heard. He then told his colleagues at the embassy, and the idea spread. With the help of the media and the medical community, the idea solidified and spread around the world. He ticks all the boxes.
Interestingly, the National Academy of Science’s December 2020 report concluded that mass psychogenic illness was a reasonable explanation for patient symptoms, especially chronic symptoms, but lacked “patient-level data.” to make such a diagnosis.
The Cuban government itself has also investigated the alleged attacks over the years. The most detailed report, released on September 13, 2021, concludes that there is no evidence of directed energy weapons and says psychological causes are the only ones that cannot be ruled out.
While not as sensational as the idea of a new secret weapon, mass psychogenic illness has historical precedents and may explain the wide variety of symptoms, the absence of brain or hearing damage and their subsequent spread. in the world.
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This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/havana-syndrome-fits-the-pattern-of-psychosomatic-illness-but-that-doesnt-mean-the-symptoms-arent-real-167275.