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Havana Syndrome: The mystery illness

Date: 09 February 2022 Tags: Miscellaneous


A report filed by US intelligence department points out that Havana syndrome may have been caused by pulsed electromagnetic energy or close-range ultrasound.



Havana syndrome has been in news from past couple of years. It has gained prominence after an incident occurred during Vice President’s visit to Vietnam.



  • Havana syndrome is a common name used to refer to a series of brain injuries and symptoms experienced by US diplomats during their tenure in foreign countries.

  • A previous report by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had suggested that reasons for the symptoms were underlying medical conditions.


About the syndrome

  • The symptoms under the syndrome include hearing loss, dizziness, headaches, nausea, vertigo and internal brain injuries.

  • The symptoms were first reported by US embassy staff and their family members in Havana, Cuba during 2016-17.


Previous instances

  • A staffer travelling with the CIA director to India experienced symptoms similar to those associated with the syndrome.

  • The much-awaited visit by Vice president Kamala Harris to Vietnam was delayed after a Havana syndrome-like health issue cropped up in an official.

  • Such symptoms have been observed among US officials serving in Russia, Colombia, Uzbekistan and China. Some cases have been witnessed in the mainland US also.


Reports of investigation

  • Apart from saying that some ‘Havana Syndrome’ cases may have been caused by pulsed electromagnetic energy in radio frequency, the people behind it have not been named.

  • The symptoms shown by affected individuals were genuine and they displayed elevated biomarker levels, indicating cellular injury.

  • They may have been caused by external stimuli and the reasons could not be known by medical or environmental conditions.


Characteristics of syndrome

  • The first characteristic is hearing impact. Secondly, simultaneous symptoms such as vertigo.

  • The third symptom is strong sense of directionality and the fourth is absence of conditions that may have caused the symptoms.

  • The most probable reason points out to pulsed electromagnetic energy sent using non-standard antennas and techniques.


Way ahead

  • There must be more focus on identifying and collecting more data. More focus should be given for developing specific tests.

  • US employees must be sensitized in order to reduce impacts of psychological and neurological factors.

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