In DepthPUBLIC HEALTH

Reports of inner-ear damage deepen diplomat controversy

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Science  22 Jun 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6395, pp. 1281-1282
DOI: 10.1126/science.360.6395.1281

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Summary

The mystery illness first reported in late 2016 among U.S. diplomats in Havana is now affecting personnel at a U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China. Yet 18 months in, an explanation is nowhere in sight, although hypotheses have proliferated. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson blamed a deliberate "health attack" for the Cuba ailments, whereas some neuroscientists and psychologists—and a panel of Cuban scientists—have written them off as the result of stress. Some unaffected diplomats from the Havana embassy agree. But a few researchers are finding hints of a physical cause for the symptoms, which include headaches, dizziness, and insomnia. In the latest proposal, Michael Hoffer, an otolaryngologist at the University of Miami in Florida, and his colleagues describe a unique vestibular and cognitive disorder in two dozen people evacuated from the Havana embassy.

  • * Richard Stone, formerly Science's international editor, is now senior science editor at Tangled Bank Studios in Chevy Chase, Maryland.