Doctors treating victims of the US Embassy UU From mysterious and invisible attacks in Cuba, they discovered brain abnormalities while looking for clues to explain hearing, vision, balance and memory damage, the Associated Press has learned.
It is the most specific finding to date on physical damage, showing that whatever it is that has harmed Americans, it has led to perceptible changes in their brains. The finding is also one of several factors that fuel the growing skepticism that there is some kind of sonic weapon involved.
Medical tests revealed that embassy employees developed changes in white substance tracts that allow different parts of the brain to communicate, several US officials said. UU., Describing a growing consensus held by university and government doctors investigating the attacks. White matter acts as information highways between brain cells.
The loud and mysterious noises followed by hearing loss and ringing in the ears have led researchers to suspect "sonic attacks". But officials are now carefully avoiding that term. The sounds may have been the product of something else that caused damage, said three US officials. UU Informed about the investigation. They were not authorized to discuss it publicly and demanded anonymity.
Doctors, FBI investigators, and intelligence agencies in the United States have spent months trying to put the puzzle together in Havana, where the US UU They say that 24 officials of the US government. UU And their spouses fell ill last year in homes and then in some hotels. The United States refers to "specific attacks" but says it does not know who is behind them. Some employees of the Canadian Embassy also got sick.
Doctors still do not know how victims ended up with changes in white matter, nor how exactly those changes could be related to their symptoms. US officials UU They did not say if the changes were found in the 24 patients.
But acoustic waves have never been shown to alter the white matter tracts of the brain, said Elisa Konofagou, a professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University who is not involved in the government's investigation.
"I would be very surprised," said Konofagou, adding that ultrasound in the brain is frequently used in modern medicine. "We never see problems in the white matter tract."
Cubaand calls the Trump administration's assertions that US workers were attacked "deliberate lies." New medical details can help the US UU To counteract Havana's complaint that Washington has not presented any evidence.
The case has engulfed the US medical community UU In an unexplored territory. Doctors are treating the symptoms as a new disease never before seen. After extensive testing and trial therapies, they are developing the first protocols to detect cases and identify the best treatments, even when the FBI investigation has difficulty identifying a culprit, method and motive.
Doctors treating victims did not speak to the PA, however, their findings are expected to be discussed in an article to be presented to the Journal of the American Medical Association, US officials said. UU The doctors of the University of Miami and the University of Pennsylvania who have treated the victims of Cuba are writing it, with contributions from the medical unit of the State Department and other government doctors.
But the article will not speculate on what technology could have hurt the workers or who would have wanted to target the Americans in Cuba. If researchers are closer to solving those questions, their findings will not be made public.
The AP reported for the first time in August that US workers. UU They reported that the sounds of the headphones in parts of the rooms were inaudible a few feet away, unlike the normal sound, which is scattered in all directions. Doctors have now come to a term for such incidents: "Directional acoustic phenomena."
Most patients have fully recovered, some after rehabilitation and other treatments, authorities said. Many are back at work. Approximately a quarter had symptoms that persisted for long periods or remain to this day.
Earlier this year, the US UU They said doctors discovered that the patients had suffered a concussion, known as mild traumatic brain injury, but were not sure what had happened in their brains. Concussions are often diagnosed based solely on symptoms.
Studies have found concussions and white matter damage in war veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan who survived the explosions but had no other physical damage. But those injuries were attributed mainly to the shock waves of the explosions. No patient from Havana reported explosions or blows to the head.
External medical experts said that when the patient sample is so small, it is difficult to establish cause and effect.
"What you have to ask each time you see something in a scan: is it due to the episode in question, or was it something pre-existing and unrelated to what happened?" said Dr. Gerard Gianoli, ear and brain specialist in Louisiana.
While Cuba works to limit damage to its reputation and economy, its government has produced television specials and an online summit on its own investigation. The Cuban experts have come to the conclusion that the allegations of the Americans are scientifically impossible.
Cubans have urged the US UU To disclose information about what is found. FBI investigators have spent months comparing cases to identify which factors overlap.
U.S. The officers told the AP that investigators have now determined:
- The sound patients who reported more often were a sharp screech or a grating metal. Less I remembered a low noise, like a buzzing.
- Some were asleep and awakened by the sound, even when others who slept in the same bed or room did not hear anything.
- Sometimes, the vibrations accompanied the sound. The victims told investigators that they felt similar to the rapid flutter of air when the windows of a car are partially rolled.
- Those most affected knew immediately that something was affecting their bodies. Some developed visual symptoms within 24 hours, including problems focusing on a computer screen.
The United States did not identify any specific precautions it believes could mitigate the risk to diplomats in Havana, three officials said, although no attack was reported since late August. Since the Americans began to get sick last year, the State Department has adopted a new protocol for workers before going to Cuba that includes blood tests and other "benchmark" tests. If they show symptoms later, doctors can re-evaluate and compare.
Doctors are still unaware of the long-term medical consequences and expect epidemiologists, who track disease patterns in populations, to monitor the 24 Americans for life. Consultations with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are ongoing.