WASHINGTON/GUANGZHOU (China) • The US State Department has brought a group of diplomats home from Guangzhou, China, over concerns that they were suffering from the same mysterious malady that has affected US personnel in Cuba, a spokesman said.
The department said on Wednesday that "a number of individuals" were sent to the United States for further evaluation following initial medical screenings.
That follows the initial evacuation last month of a government employee who had reported hearing strange noises in his apartment and exhibited symptoms of brain injury, reviving fears that a US rival has developed some kind of acoustic or microwave device.
After the first case, the department deployed a team to screen employees and family members at its consulate there, spokesman Heather Nauert said in a statement on Wednesday. "As a result of the screening process so far, the department has sent a number of individuals for further evaluation and a comprehensive assessment of their symptoms and findings in the United States," Ms Nauert said.
Last year, 24 US diplomats and their family members in Cuba fell victim to mysterious "attacks" that left them with injuries resembling brain trauma.
Ten Canadian diplomats and their relatives also suffered a strange illness.
The latest round of evacuations, which began on Wednesday in China, was the first sign that the unexplained ailments have now broadened and threaten to become a full-blown health crisis like the one that affected the diplomats in Cuba.
A US official, who wasn't authorised to discuss the situation publicly and requested anonymity, told the Associated Press that the evacuated Americans were being taken for testing to the University of Pennsylvania, where doctors have been treating and studying patients evacuated from the embassy in Havana.
Though no names were released, a Foreign Service officer, Mr Mark Lenzi, told The Washington Post he would be evacuated along with his wife and three-year-old son.
Mr Lenzi said he began hearing unusual sounds in April last year, comparing them to rolling marbles with static.
He said he started experiencing excruciating, painful headaches a few months later, as did his wife and son.
Mr Lenzi also said the employee evacuated last month was his next-door neighbour, a fellow Foreign Service officer who was diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said yesterday that as far as she was aware, the government had not had any formal communication with US officials on any new cases, and that it had investigated an initial incident.
"If there's really a problem, then the US side can directly contact the Chinese side and communicate, and China will continue to conscientiously investigate and coordinate with a responsible attitude," Ms Hua said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS