From crickets to insecticides: Effects of Cuba ‘sonic attacks’ caused by anti-Zika fumigation, new study claims
The droning noise that the US dubbed “sonic attacks” on the unwell diplomats in Havana has previously been attributed to crickets. But the mystery symptoms prompted more studies, with one now pointing to… gases that kill insects.
There might be more to the infamous story that caused a diplomatic row between Cuba on one side, and the US and Canada on the other – but it’s still not what the US government wants you to believe.
After US and Canadian personnel complained of frequent, strange grating noises and experienced symptoms including headache, nausea, hearing and memory loss during 2016 and 2017, their reports spiraled into unfounded accusations that Havana was using an unknown malicious device to “attack” the embassies. Diplomats were recalled, notes sent and diplomatic staff cut down. It went as far as President Donald Trump publicly accusing the Cuban government of ill will. Canada refrained from jumping the gun and blaming anyone for the mystery “Havana syndrome” – and it appears they were right to hesitate.
The new study, conducted by a Canadian team of researchers affiliated with the Brain Repair Centre at Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia Health Authority, determined that the symptoms were consistent with prolonged exposure to pesticides.
The researchers have examined the Canadian “Havana syndrome” victims, including the brain of a pet dog that was in Havana during the alleged “attacks” and has since died.
The study detected different levels of brain damage in an area susceptible to neurotoxins contained in some insecticides. What’s more, the “attacks” coincided with the Zika epidemic in the Caribbean, which prompted abundant fumigation in and around places the diplomats lived. The fumigation was conducted both by Cuban and Canadian authorities, so it’s unclear who used the offending pesticides.
We report the clinical, imaging and biochemical evidence consistent with the hypothesis of over-exposure to cholinesterase inhibitors as the cause of brain injury, the study reads.
At the same time, the study stressed that other causes of the sickness could not be ruled out and further research is needed. It remains unclear whether the fumigation affected the locals as well.
The new findings follow other studies that tried to explain what sounds the affected diplomats heard. In January, the University of California at Berkeley presented research suggesting the noises heard and recorded by the diplomats might have actually been nothing more than the chirping of insects – Indies short-tailed crickets in particular.
A similar theory was presented by Cuban researchers in 2017, with local scientists pinning the blame on the Jamaican field cricket, which is common to the island.
Can the media finally blame the insects, or is the mysterious Cold War-style “sonic weapon” targeting diplomats still way too appealing for headlines and political speeches? Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, but if only some of those speeches were written by informed people in labs.
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