Emotional trauma and fear most likely cause of 'Havana Syndrome'

October 31, 2019

The cause of the mystery illness among US and Canadian diplomats in Havana is most likely to be emotional trauma and fear according to a leading sociologist and an expert in neurodegenerative diseases, writing in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Concussion-like symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue, were initially reported among dozens of US embassy staff between late 2016 and June 2018. They were described by the US State Department as 'medically confirmed symptoms' and government physicians suspected the involvement of a sonic device. Studies on the embassy patients, however, have been inconclusive and contradictory. A similar array of symptoms was reported in over two dozen Canadian diplomats during this same period.

The paper's lead author, Dr Robert Bartholomew, concludes that 'Havana Syndrome' is more akin to shell shock, with the symptoms paralleling those associated with war trauma. "A characteristic feature of combat syndromes over the past century is the appearance of an array of neurological complaints from an overstimulated nervous system that are commonly misdiagnosed as concussions and brain damage", he writes. He adds: "A signature feature of shell shock was concussion-like symptoms. Like today, their appearance initially baffled physicians until a more careful review of the data determined that what they were seeing was an epidemic of psychogenic illness. In fact, some of the descriptions from 100 years ago are virtually identical, right down to the use of the phrase 'concussion-like symptoms'."

Dr Bartholomew is a medical sociologist based in Auckland, New Zealand. The report was co-authored by Dr Robert W. Baloh, Director of the Neurotology Laboratory at the UCLA Medical Center. The authors describe the diplomats who became sick as participants in a continuation of the Cold War, living in a hostile foreign country where they were under constant surveillance. Between late 2016 and 2017, staff in Havana were living in a cauldron of stress and uncertainty, amid rumours of an enigmatic sonic weapon.

"The political and scientific evidence for the perpetration of an attack on US embassy staff in Cuba is inconclusive," they write. "What is the more likely, that the diplomats were the target of a mysterious new weapon for which there is no concrete evidence, or they were suffering from psychogenic symptoms generated by stress? The evidence overwhelmingly points to the latter."

They add: "There have been four separate studies of 'Havana Syndrome' to date. Each have critical design flaws including the use of inappropriate controls, inflated conclusions, and a lack of evidence for exposure to an energy source or toxin. None adequately test the hypotheses they propose, while promoting exotic explanations that are not supported by the facts. Our conclusions are grounded in the prosaic and known science. There is no need to resort to exotic explanations. Claims that the patients were suffering from brain and auditory damage are not borne out by the data."
-end-
Notes to editors

Challenging the diagnosis of 'Havana Syndrome' as a novel clinical entity

(DOI: 10.1177/0141076819877553), by Robert E Bartholomew and Robert W Baloh, will be published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine at 00:05 hrs (UK time) on Friday 1 November 2019.

The link for the full text version of the paper when published will be:

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0141076819877553

For further information or a copy of the paper please contact:

Rosalind Dewar
Media Office, Royal Society of Medicine
DL: +44 (0) 1580 764713
M: +44 (0) 7785 182732
E: media@rsm.ac.uk

The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (JRSM) is a leading voice in the UK and internationally for medicine and healthcare. Published continuously since 1809, JRSM features scholarly comment and clinical research. JRSM is editorially independent from the Royal Society of Medicine, and its editor is Dr Kamran Abbasi.

JRSM is a Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and it is published by SAGE Publishing.

SAGE

Related Neurodegenerative Diseases Articles from Brightsurf:

Bringing drugs to the brain with nanoparticles to treat neurodegenerative diseases
Researchers from the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) have shown that nanoparticles could be used to deliver drugs to the brain to treat neurodegenerative diseases.

First 'pathoconnectome' could point toward new treatments for neurodegenerative diseases
Scientists from the John A. Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah have achieved another first in the field of connectomics, which studies the synaptic connections between neurons.

Unlocking the mystery of tau for treatment of neurodegenerative diseases
A team of researchers from various collaborating universities and hospitals in Japan has uncovered crucial molecular details regarding the activity of the ''tau'' protein, promising to revolutionize the therapy of tau-induced neurodegenerative diseases.

Investigational drug stops toxic proteins tied to neurodegenerative diseases
An investigational drug that targets an instigator of the TDP-43 protein, a well-known hallmark of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD), may reduce the protein's buildup and neurological decline associated with these disorders, suggests a pre-clinical study from researchers at Penn Medicine and Mayo Clinic.

Inhibition of sphingolipid metabolism and neurodegenerative diseases
Disrupting the production of a class of lipids known as sphingolipids in neurons improved symptoms of neurodegeneration and increased survival in a mouse model.

How understanding the dynamics of yeast prions can shed light on neurodegenerative diseases
How understanding the dynamics of yeast prions can shed light on neurodegenerative diseases

New family of molecules to join altered receptors in neurodegenerative diseases
An article published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry shows a new family of molecules with high affinity to join imidazoline receptors, which are altered in the brain of those patients with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's.

Examining diagnoses of stress-related disorders, risk of neurodegenerative diseases
Researchers investigated how stress-related disorders (such as posttraumatic stress disorder, adjustment disorder and stress reactions) were associated with risk for neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer and Parkinson disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), using data from national health registers in Sweden.

Toxic protein, linked to Alzheimer's and neurodegenerative diseases, exposed in new detail
The protein tau has long been implicated in Alzheimer's and a host of other debilitating brain diseases.

Study uncovers unexpected connection between gliomas, neurodegenerative diseases
New basic science and clinical research identifies TAU, the same protein studied in the development of Alzheimer's, as a biomarker for glioma development.

Read More: Neurodegenerative Diseases News and Neurodegenerative Diseases Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.