From late 2016 through to August 2017, at least 21 US diplomatic staff in Havana fell sick with inexplicable headaches, insomnia, and dizziness. Since its first reports, the story has been getting weirder and weirder. Theories have ranged from a covert sonic weapon to mass hysteria, but no one seems to really have a clue what’s going on.
Now, a scientific study in the journal JAMA has weighed in on the mystery and concluded that the individuals show concussion-like symptoms resembling the effects of sustained injury to the brain, however, none of them have ever received any notable trauma to the head. In the study authors' words, it's "neurotrauma from a nonnatural source".
“It’s like a concussion without a concussion,” coauthor Randel Swanson, a brain injury rehabilitation specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, said in an accompanying article to the study.
“If you took any one of these patients and put them into a brain injury clinic, and you didn’t know their background, you would think that they had a traumatic brain injury from being in a car accident or a blast in the military.”
Before their sickness set in, almost all of the individuals heard some kind of a strange buzz in their homes or hotel rooms. After this strange auditory experience, 16 of the staffers experienced memory problems and felt “mentally foggy”. Nervousness or feeling overly emotional was noted in at least 11 of them, 13 experienced intense dizziness, and 18 experienced sleeping problems.
The question remains: what caused this concussion-like injury, then? Well, nothing really seems to fit the bill. The idea of a sonic device, however, appears to be out of the question.
“We actually don’t think it was the audible sound that was the problem,” added coauthor Douglas Smith, a neurology professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “We think the audible sound was a consequence of the exposure, because audible sound is not known to cause brain injury.”
Theories of a virus or chemical agent were also doubted, as there was no physical evidence to prop up the claims. While a collective psychogenic illness is “plausible”, the researchers explain it doesn’t appear to match up with the nature of this case.
They concluded that the individuals most likely had some form of “brain injury”, yet the cause of the injury still remains a mysterious "nonnatural source". However, they believe it would be foolish to jump to any conclusions about the nature of the source until further investigation is carried out.
Slowly but surely, it appears that the story is coming together.