Brain Abnormalities Found in US Embassy Workers After Mysterious Attacks in Cuba

Posted: Dec 08, 2017 11:30 AM

Brain abnormalities have been found in the U.S. diplomats who were victims of mysterious attacks in Cuba that have resulted in hearing, vision, and balance impairment as well as memory damage, the Associated Press reports. 

While sonic attacks were initially named as a possible cause of the health effects, the new findings question that theory. 

Medical testing has revealed the embassy workers developed changes to the white matter tracts that let different parts of the brain communicate, several U.S. officials said, describing a growing consensus held by university and government physicians researching the attacks. White matter acts like information highways between brain cells.

Loud, mysterious sounds followed by hearing loss and ear-ringing had led investigators to suspect “sonic attacks.” But officials are now carefully avoiding that term. The sounds may have been the byproduct of something else that caused damage, said three U.S. officials briefed on the investigation. […]

Doctors still don’t know how victims ended up with the white matter changes, nor how exactly those changes might relate to their symptoms. U.S. officials wouldn’t say whether the changes were found in all 24 patients.

But acoustic waves have never been shown to alter the brain’s white matter tracts, said Elisa Konofagou, a biomedical engineering professor at Columbia University who is not involved in the government’s investigation.

“I would be very surprised,” Konofagou said, adding that ultrasound in the brain is used frequently in modern medicine. “We never see white matter tract problems.” (AP)

The attacks, which took place in homes and some hotels, affected at least 24 U.S. government officials, some of their spouses, and a few Canadian Embassy staffers as well. The individuals began reporting their illnesses last year. 

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said he’s “convinced these were targeted attacks,” but said the perpetrators are unknown. 

“What we’ve said to the Cubans is: Small island. You’ve got a sophisticated intelligence apparatus. You probably know who’s doing it. You can stop it,” Tillerson said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Cuba has denied any wrongdoing and has accused the Trump administration of “deliberately lying” about the attacks.   

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