OTTAWA — Eight Canadians required followup medical care after diplomats and family members in Cuba suffered unexplained ailments, a senior Global Affairs official says.
A total of 27 people from 10 diplomatic families underwent testing when some complained of dizziness, nosebleeds or headaches — symptoms that developed amid concern about possible acoustic attacks.
There is no indication anyone has suffered permanent damage and the eight who needed additional care have since returned to work or school, the official said Wednesday at a media briefing.
The RCMP is leading a government-wide investigation into the illnesses, which remain a mystery, he said.
Canada is working with the United States — many of whose personnel in Havana also took ill — and Cuban authorities to try to solve the puzzle.
The United States appears to be no closer to finding answers.
The Canadian official spoke to the media on condition he not be identified, an effort by Global Affairs to shed light on the odd occurrences without compromising privacy of the families or security in Cuba.
Cuba seems as baffled by all of this as Canada and the U.S., he said. The island nation welcomes about 1.2 million Canadian tourists a year, and therefore has real incentive to get to the bottom of the issue.
Last April, U.S. representatives in Havana asked the Canadian and other embassies if staff had been hearing any strange sounds or experiencing medical symptoms.
Some American diplomats had reported such symptoms since December 2016. In May 2017, a number of Canadian staff came forward.
Recently declassified memos show the federal government sent a doctor to Havana in June to examine diplomats and family members. The visit by Dr. Jeffrey Chernin of Health Canada revealed symptoms similar to those experienced by U.S. staff.
Word of the perplexing phenomenon started percolating publicly during the summer, fuelling theories about the cause of the illnesses. Sonic attacks, contaminated air or water and even persistent noise from crickets have been floated as possibilities.
The notion of some kind of auditory assault stemmed from the fact U.S. personnel complained of hearing a high-pitched sound before experiencing symptoms. This has been less of a factor with the Canadians.
Canada is conducting environmental assessments of its embassy and all diplomatic residences. It has also stepped up security measures in conjunction with the Cuban government.
The United States brought many diplomats home from Havana last year and expelled Cuban representatives from Washington.
In August, Ottawa acknowledged that an unspecified number of Canadians in Cuba had been affected.
The official said Wednesday that three diplomatic families had returned to Canada out of concern about the strange illnesses. Two of these families had experienced symptoms.
But staff levels at the mission in Cuba remain at usual levels, as some new diplomats — fully apprised of the medical issues — have arrived in Havana, the official said.
Most of the cases involving Canadians developed in May, though there were separate incidents in August and December of individuals feeling strong waves of pressure, he added.
At this point, Global Affairs has no reason to believe that Canadian tourists could be at risk.
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