Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Cuba 'Sonic Attack' Was Likely Caused by Pesticides, Study Finds

Popular
Cuba 'Sonic Attack' Was Likely Caused by Pesticides, Study Finds
A statue of José Martí appears to point toward the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba on Nov. 10, 2018. Robot Brainz / Flickr

A mysterious sudden onset of extreme symptoms that overtook American and Canadian diplomats stationed in Cuba may be linked to an overexposure to pesticides, according to new research.


Symptoms of "Havana Syndrome" were first reported in August 2017 when officials working in Cuba experienced a myriad of health problems with symptoms similar to those of a mild brain injury, reported The Guardian at the time. Characterized by ringing in the ears, vertigo, blurred vision and difficulty concentrating and speaking, the cause was first thought to be the result of an acoustic attack by the Cuban Government.

Preliminary findings from a study funded by Global Affairs Canada now suggest that the condition was likely caused by "organosphosphorus insecticides" that inhibited cholinesterase (ChE), a family of enzymes that ensures proper functioning of the nervous system, especially in the nervous tissue, muscle and red cells.

Organosphosphorus insecticides are chemicals used to kill many types of insects and account for a large share of those used in the U.S. including on food crops, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. People become exposed to these chemicals when eating food treated with them, by breathing in particles through the air, or absorbing them through the skin. Sudden exposure can result in nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing and weakness whereas long-term exposure to smaller amounts can make a person "feel tired or weak, irritable, depressed, or forgetful."

A multidisciplinary team of researchers – including researchers from toxicology, neurology and psychiatry – assessed 26 Canadian participants, 23 of whom were diplomats that lived with their family members in Havana, plus three who did not live in Cuba.

"We were also able to test several of the subjects before and after they returned from Cuba," said study author Alon Friedman Friedman. "Our team saw changes in the brain that definitely occurred during the time they were in Havana."

Researchers asses the medical history and cognitive ability of participants, as well as conducted blood tests and a self-reported symptom questionnaire. Further MRI tests showed neurological, visual and audio-vestibular injury in the brain.

"We followed the science, and with each discovery we asked ourselves more questions," said Friedman. "Pinpointing the exact location of where the brain was injured was an important factor that helped lead us to perform specific biochemical and toxicological blood tests and reach the conclusion that the most likely cause of the injury was repeated exposure to neurotoxins."

The pesticide in question is one that is used across the island nation to protect against Zika virus, reports CNN.

"The study validates the need for us to continue to learn more about the use of pesticides and other toxins," said Friedman. "It is a global health issue that reminds us how much we still have to learn about the impact that toxins have on our health."

The findings "confirm brain injury" and raise questions to overexposure to cholinesterase inhibitors. The results have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed publication but will be presented at the Breaking the Barriers of the Brain in New York City conference on Oct. 27.

A dugong, also called a sea cow, swims with golden pilot jacks near Marsa Alam, Egypt, Red Sea. Alexis Rosenfeld / Getty Images

In 2010, world leaders agreed to 20 targets to protect Earth's biodiversity over the next decade. By 2020, none of them had been met. Now, the question is whether the world can do any better once new targets are set during the meeting of the UN Convention on Biodiversity in Kunming, China later this year.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the State Dining Room at the White House on Jan. 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images

By Andrew Rosenberg

The first 24 hours of the administration of President Joe Biden were filled not only with ceremony, but also with real action. Executive orders and other directives were quickly signed. More actions have followed. All consequential. Many provide a basis for not just undoing actions of the previous administration, but also making real advances in public policy to protect public health, safety, and the environment.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Melting ice forms a lake on free-floating ice jammed into the Ilulissat Icefjord during unseasonably warm weather on July 30, 2019 near Ilulissat, Greenland. Sean Gallup / Getty Images

A first-of-its-kind study has examined the satellite record to see how the climate crisis is impacting all of the planet's ice.

Read More Show Less
Probiotic rich foods. bit245 / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Ana Maldonado-Contreras

Takeaways

  • Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria that are vital for keeping you healthy.
  • Some of these microbes help to regulate the immune system.
  • New research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, shows the presence of certain bacteria in the gut may reveal which people are more vulnerable to a more severe case of COVID-19.

You may not know it, but you have an army of microbes living inside of you that are essential for fighting off threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.

Read More Show Less
Michael Mann photo inset by Joshua Yospyn.

By Jeff Masters, Ph.D.

The New Climate War: the fight to take back our planet is the latest must-read book by leading climate change scientist and communicator Michael Mann of Penn State University.

Read More Show Less