Major study finds no evidence of brain damage in Havana syndrome cases

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health examined dozens of government employees and their family members who experienced “Havana syndrome” and found no evidence of obvious brain damage or other biomarkers that could explain their illness. Despite these findings, the report’s authors said the symptoms experienced by these patients are real and often debilitating. In most cases, patients described a series of mysterious symptoms that occurred while they were stationed overseas.

In late 2016, U.S. and Canadian diplomats began to suffer from an unusual illness while at the embassy in Havana, Cuba. The cases follow a similar pattern: People experience acute symptoms such as nausea, headaches and hearing loss, often after hearing strange noises and sometimes accompanied by pressure on their heads. Many people continue to have lingering memory or neurological problems and eventually need to leave the workforce entirely. After reports of these incidents became public in the summer of 2017, the disease quickly became known as havana syndrome.

Some accuse the Cuban and Russian governments of deliberately attacking victims, possibly using exotic technologies such as microwave radiation or sonic weapons. However, evidence has also been presented for more common physical causes, including pesticide exposure. Some scientists argue vehemently that there may not be an organic explanation at all—that most of these cases represent a social contagion, a shared belief powerful enough to cause physical illness.

Various intelligence agencies and organizations in the United States and elsewhere have investigated the matter and have mostbut not UniversallyIt was agreed that the cases were likely not caused by “directed energy weapons” or foreign adversaries. The NIH has been conducting its own investigation, the results of which have been published in two document Published Monday in the journal JAMA.

In one study, the authors used MRI to scan the brains of 81 patients who were described as experiencing “abnormal health events”; in another, the team conducted extensive medical examinations on 86 people. These patients were compared with controls matched for age and other characteristics. Overall, the researchers found few differences between the two groups.

“In this exploratory neuroimaging study, there was no obvious MRI-detectable evidence of brain injury in the group of participants who had experienced brain injury. [anomalous health incidents] compared with a group of matched control participants,” the authors of the MRI study wrote.

Another study said much the same, with scientists finding no significant differences from most tests they conducted. Those who suffered these events objectively performed worse on balance tests and had higher rates of depression, fatigue, and post-traumatic stress disorder. About 40 percent of patients also appear to meet criteria for a functional neurological disorder, which may cause neurological symptoms such as limb weakness or seizures but may not be associated with physical, structural damage to the brain or nervous system.

Functional neurological disorders are often described as “all in the head” or fake, but patients are not pretending to experience the symptoms, there are real abnormalities in the way the brain sends and receives signals to the rest of the body. .Although the exact causes of these diseases are unknown, they can appear According to the National Institutes of Health, this is due to a “disconnect in lobe function and emotional processing.” The authors of both papers are quick to point out that what happened to these patients was far from fictional.

Study author Leighton said: “While we did not find significant differences between participants with AHI, it is important to acknowledge that these symptoms are very real, can wreak havoc on the lives of those affected, and can last for quite some time. Over a long period of time, it causes disability and is difficult to treat.” Dr. Chen is director of rehabilitation medicine and acting chief scientific officer of the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center statement From the National Institutes of Health.

Although the researchers said they examined the patients extensively, there could be physical explanations for why these tests failed to detect them, either because they didn’t measure the right things or because signs of injury disappeared before surgery. Testing happens. Some patients have already objected to the study results, pointing to these and other potential problems.

“Of course, lack of evidence is not evidence, so these studies do not undermine the theory that foreign adversaries are using some form of directed energy to harm U.S. personnel and their families,” said Mark Zaid, an attorney representing some of the patients, in a statement. statement Released today. Zeid and others have called on the U.S. government to declassify and release all findings regarding these cases.

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