Havana Syndrome Is the Mystery Illness Afflicting U.S. Government Representatives

Havana syndrome is a mystery illness that seemingly originated in Cuba, but what exactly is it and what are its symptoms? Here's what we know.

Chris Barilla - Author

Sep. 21 2021, Published 1:10 p.m. ET

Havana, Cuba
Source: Getty Images

It seems as though the world can't go a day now without the mention of some type of illness that threatens the lives of its inhabitants. Although the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging worldwide, there appears to be another mystery illness that is concerning some, and the majority of those afflicted with it appear to be U.S. government representatives.

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This mystery illness is called Havana syndrome, and a new case of it seems to have emerged from a CIA officer who was visiting India recently. So, what exactly are the symptoms of Havana syndrome, and what do we know about where it originated? Keep reading to find out.

CIA Director William Burns
Source: Getty Images

CIA director William Burns

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What are the symptoms of Havana syndrome? There are a few key ones to look out for.

Little is known as of now about Havana syndrome and exactly what brings it about in humans, but it appears to disrupt normal brain function and cause a slew of concerning symptoms among the afflicted. These symptoms, per NBC, include vertigo, dizziness, fatigue, nausea, and intense headaches. Those who have the condition have reported it as feeling akin to being hit with an invisible blast, and have even led some who had it to be unable to work anymore.

Another reported symptom that some who have Havana syndrome reported is hearing certain sounds without there being any actual discernible noise present. The root cause of these concerning feelings by the afflicted is still yet to be determined by investigators and scientists looking to get to the bottom of it all.

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So what exactly is Havana syndrome? Like its name suggests, it first appeared in Cuba in 2016.

Scientists and government officials are still working to figure out exactly what Havana syndrome is, and as of right now little is known about the illness. The first cases of Havana syndrome appeared in Havana in 2016, where U.S. and Canadian representatives to Cuba reported the aforementioned symptoms. In the time since being discovered, all of those who have faced the illness have been government workers, CIA agents, and their families.

Havana, Cuba
Source: Getty Images
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However, there are a few theories about the origin of Havana syndrome, albeit not scientifically proven ones. Initially, officials believed that the Cuban government was involved in it, but that theory faded as cases spread to virtually every continent where agents were stationed worldwide. Now, scientists are speculating that it all has something to do with microwaves. Not the devices that warm up food, but literal microwaves blasted into the sky.

Per the BBC, the use of microwaves in espionage dates back to the Cold War, and both the U.S. and Russia experimented with the technology in an effort to disrupt human brain function and even cause death in subjects. There have been reported cases in places such as Russia, China, and Cuba, which all have had or currently have a Russian government presence. Although it hasn't been confirmed by the State Department, the generally accepted theory as of now is that Russia is largely behind it all.

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Nonetheless, the true power of Havana syndrome at the moment lies in its mystery, and that mystery is making it increasingly dangerous for government officials to operate overseas. Until a true cause of it can be determined, it will likely continue to undermine U.S. intelligence operations worldwide and scare off anyone who fears the long-term implications of contracting it.

CIA Memorial
Source: Getty Images
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Most recently, a CIA agent working in India reported having symptoms of Havana syndrome.

According to CNN, a CIA representative who accompanied the agency's director, William Burns, on a trip to India recently reported symptoms consistent with Havana syndrome. This instance marks the second time in less than a month that agents traveling with top Biden administration officials have come down with the mystery illness. In August, Vice President Kamala Harris' visit to Vietnam had to be delayed when multiple members of her team also reported symptoms consistent with the illness.

Burns and the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, are allegedly in the midst of an in-depth sweep to weed out potential causes behind the uptick in cases among traveling representatives this summer.

This situation is cause for concern among government representatives, as it remains unknown how a would-be assailant caught wind of Burns' trip to India to begin with.

"We don't comment on specific incidents or officers. We have protocols in place for when individuals report possible anomalous health incidents that include receiving appropriate medical treatment," said a CIA spokesperson (per CNN). "We will keep doing everything we can to protect our officers."

However, per two sources for CNN, it's clear that whoever is behind it all is sending a message to U.S. officials that even those closest to the government's highest-ranking members aren't safe while traveling.

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