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Syndrome Havana: no notable brain damage

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The embassy building of Havana United States in Havana, Cuba. Havana syndrome is an unexplained disorder that has affected dozens of embassy employees. (Archive photo)

Agence France-Presse

Extensive examinations of people claiming to have Havana syndrome, an unexplained disorder that has affected dozens of diplomats and embassy employees, have not revealed notable brain damage, shows a study from the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) published in the journal JAMA (New window) (in English).

No less than 81 people who had experienced abnormal health incidents participated in the study.

These disorders (migraines, dizziness, nausea, vision problems, etc.) first struck American and Canadian diplomats stationed in Cuba in 2016 , hence its name Havana syndrome.

They were then reported elsewhere in the world (China, Germany, Australia, Russia , Austria) and even in Washington.

NIH researchers sought to identify brain lesions by comparing MRI results from patients claiming to have the syndrome and those from a control group.

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The study revealed no notable difference […] in brain structure or function between individuals in the two groups, they emphasize.

In another NIH study, also published Monday in JAMA, researchers attempted to identify differences in biological markers between affected people and a control group.

This latest study does not x27;also did not reveal any notable differences, with the exception of objective, self-reported assessments of imbalance and symptoms of fatigue, post-traumatic stress and depression.

Both studies, however, were criticized in an editorial also published by JAMA Monday and written by David Relman, a microbiologist at Stanford Medical School.

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">According to this researcher, who has worked on the issue of these abnormal health incidents, whether the NIH study used advanced brain imaging techniques , current MRI technology is potentially insensitive, or poorly calibrated for certain characteristics of these disorders.

For Leighton Chan, lead author of one of the two studies and cited in an NIH press release, despite these results it is important to recognize that these symptoms do exist well, they cause significant disruption in the lives of those affected and can be quite long-lasting, disabling and difficult to treat.

The Havana syndrome affair led from the start to widespread speculation about its origin. Some U.S. officials initially downplayed symptoms sometimes attributed to stress, with others privately speaking of possible attacks and suspecting countries like Russia.

But American intelligence had estimated in March 2023 that it was very unlikely that a foreign power or a weapon was at the origin of the mysterious disorder.

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