The Cuban Medical Crisis
From late 2016 through August 2017, U.S. government personnel serving on diplomatic assignment in Havana, Cuba, reported neurological symptoms associated with exposure to “auditory and sensory phenomena.” The report of a “sonic attack” was pervasive in the media, despite such a weapon being physically unlikely. A recent communication published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) provides an overview of findings from 21 individuals exposed to the “auditory and sensory phenomena” including tests of cognitive function, mood, balance, hearing, and vision.
In brief, 18 of the 21 individuals reported hearing a novel, localized sound at the onset of their symptoms. The sound was described as directional, intensely loud and tonal in quality. Also, of the affected individuals, 20 reported immediate neurological symptoms including confusion, ear pain, tinnitus, nausea, dizziness, and headache. Days to weeks later, many reported cognitive change, memory trouble, fatigue, dizziness, tinnitus, hearing change, visual change, and headaches.
Focused vestibular evaluations demonstrated impairment in static postural stability, dynamic balance, and vestibular ocular reflex in over 75 percent of the exposed. Four participants demonstrated peripheral vestibular dysfunction with caloric reflex testing. Auditory findings revealed continued tinnitus in 57 percent, sound sensitivity in 24 percent, and persistent change in hearing in 43 percent.
The communication reports that the cause of these observed symptoms is unclear. Further pre-exposure data was not available in most cases to determine hearing or balance status and confirm a change created by the event.
Swanson R, Hampton S, Green-McKenzie J. (2018) Neurological manifestations among US Government personnel reporting directional audible and sensory phenomena in Havana, Cuba. J Amer Med Assoc. February 15.