A medical mystery grows as US consulate workers in China fall ill

Americans working at the United States Consulate in Guangzhou, China, developed unexplained ailments after hearing strange sounds in at least two apartment complexes, including The Canton Place apartments (above).
Americans working at the United States Consulate in Guangzhou, China, developed unexplained ailments after hearing strange sounds in at least two apartment complexes, including The Canton Place apartments (above).PHOTO: NYTIMES

GUANGZHOU (NYTIMES) - A crisis over a mysterious ailment sickening US diplomats and their families – which began in Cuba and recently appeared in China – has widened as the State Department evacuated at least two more Americans from China on Wednesday (June 6). 

The Americans who were evacuated worked at the US Consulate in the southern city of Guangzhou, and their colleagues and family members are being tested by a State Department medical team, officials said.

It is unclear how many of them are exhibiting symptoms, but a State Department spokesman said on Wednesday evening that “a number of individuals” had been sent to the United States for further testing.

For months, US officials have been worried that their diplomats have been subjected to targeted attacks involving odd sounds, leading to symptoms similar to those "following concussion or minor traumatic brain injury", the State Department says.

The new illnesses in China come just weeks after US officials reported finding their first case in Guangzhou, where a consulate employee got sick after reporting disturbing noises.

The illnesses in China have broadened a medical mystery that started in 2016, when U.S. Embassy employees and their family members began falling ill in Havana. In all, 24 of them were stricken with headaches, nausea, hearing loss, cognitive issues and other symptoms after saying they heard odd sounds.

The issue has roiled relations with Cuba, which immediately fell under suspicion, and led the United States to expel Cuban diplomats.

 

But with Americans now exhibiting similar symptoms in Guangzhou, US officials have raised suspicions about whether other countries, perhaps China or Russia, might be to blame.

Other theories have included toxins, listening devices that accidentally emitted harmful sounds or even mass hysteria.

The illnesses appear more widespread than the State Department initially reported last month, when it said that one person had "reported subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure".

There are roughly 170 American diplomats or employees in Guangzhou, as well as their family members, and a senior US official said a sizeable number had undergone or would soon undergo testing by the State Department doctors.