First case of 'Havana syndrome' reported in India. What is the mystery illness?

 For the first time, Havana syndrome has been reported in India after a CIA officer reported symptoms similar to the mysterious illness during his visit to New Delhi earlier this month.

The US officer was part of CIA director William Burns' delegation and had to receive medical aid during his stay in India, reports on CNN and NYT said.

The development comes weeks after US Vice-President Kamala Harris's visit to Vietnam was delayed when multiple US personnel reported Havana syndrome symptoms just ahead of her trip last month. In July, US diplomats in Vienna, Austria, also reported possible cases of the syndrome.

First reported in Cuba in late 2016, the mysterious neurological illness has afflicted American spies and diplomats in Russia, China, Austria and several other countries.

In late 2016, US diplomats and other employees stationed in Cuba's capital, Havana, reported feeling ill after hearing strange sounds and experiencing odd physical sensations in their hotel rooms. The symptoms included nausea, severe headaches, fatigue, dizziness, sleep problems, and hearing loss. This has since come to be known as "Havana syndrome".

Since 2016, about 200 US officials and their family members have reportedly experienced symptoms similar to this illness. Some were even left with dizziness and fatigue for months.A 2019 US academic study found "brain abnormalities" in diplomats who had fallen ill.

What causes Havana syndrome?

Five years since being first reported, doctors and scientists are yet to ascertain what causes Havana syndrome. Different theories have done the rounds since then -- from psychological illness to some sort of sonic weapon.

However, microwave radiation has emerged to be the "plausible" cause, according to a report by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS).

Havana Syndrome was first reported in Cuba in late 2016 (Getty images)

Just a stress-related condition?

Another section has altogether dismissed the syndrome, saying the stressful environment of foreign missions was behind US diplomats experiencing such symptoms.

Robert W Baloh, a professor of neurology at UCLA, called it a mass psychogenic (stress-related) condition, BBC reported. Baloh said the situation was similar to the way people feel sick when they are told they have eaten tainted food even if there was nothing wrong with it.

"When you see mass psychogenic illness, there's usually some stressful underlying situation. In the case of Cuba, the embassy employees - particularly the CIA agents who were first affected - were certainly in a stressful situation," BBC quoted Baloh as saying.

Baloh said US embassy officials became "hyper-aware" and "fearful" as reports spreadand took every-day symptoms like brain fog and dizziness as being that of Havana syndrome.

What has a US study found on Havana syndrome?

A study by the National Academies of Sciences, commissioned by the US State Department and released in December 2020, examined the symptoms of about 40 government employees. The panel of 19 experts examined four possibilities to explain the symptoms of Havana syndrome — infection, chemicals, psychological factors and microwave energy.

The study concluded that "directed pulsed radio frequency energy appears to be the most plausible mechanism in explaining these cases".

Without blaming any country, the study noted that "significant research" had been conducted on microwave weapons in Russia/USSR. Moscow has denied any role in the "attacks".

"Microwave weapons" are a type of direct energy weapon, which aim highly focused energy in the form of sonic, laser, or microwaves, at a target.



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