Could a dog’s brain offer any clues to the mysterious concussion-like syndrome affecting Canadian and American diplomats who were posted to Cuba?That is one of the many threads being pulled in an effort by researchers and scientists — and those affected — to better understand the condition referred to as Havana Syndrome, which has been blamed for debilitating some Canadian diplomats and their families.The brains of those diplomats and their spouses are being tested at Dalhousie’s Brain Repair Centre. Officials there were unavailable for interviews, but one of the diplomats involved told this newspaper that early findings have amazed researchers.Little is known about what could have caused the symptoms shared by some diplomats who were posted in Cuba, although U.S. investigators have ruled out sonic weapons, according to the Washington Post. A doctor who examined some of the Canadian and U.S. diplomats has suggested the damage stems from a microwave weapon.
The ‘Havana Syndrome’ has plagued diplomats serving in Cuba.
Illustration by Andrew King /
Still others have suggested the sounds being reported were actually crickets and that the symptoms are psychosomatic or a form of mass hysteria, hypotheses that anger those living with the after-effects.Dr. Michael Hoffer, a professor of otolaryngology and neurological surgery at the University of Miami, who examined 25 people linked to the diplomatic community in Havana, is frustrated by suggestions that the harms done to some of the diplomats are not real. Hoffer was the lead author of a paper that found all of the diplomatic personnel complaining of dizziness, ear pain and tinnitus suffered from an otolithic abnormality (affecting inner ear organs related to balance) and cognitive dysfunction. Such injuries could result in other symptoms such as cognitive difficulties and exhaustion, he said.“Here is the thing: These people did have an injury. I don’t know who injured them. I don’t know what injured them. But I am impatient with the fact that a lot of people are saying it was crickets or an infectious disease.“These people did have an injury. I don’t know who injured them. I don’t know what injured them. But I am impatient with the fact that a lot of people are saying it was crickets or an infectious disease.“Something happened to them. These findings of the inner ear disorder cannot be faked,” he said. “It is not hysteria. It is not crickets.”The suggestion that the symptoms could be psychosomatic has added to the frustration of affected Canadian diplomats. According to documents obtained through access to information by the National Post, a federal government official suggested early on that the symptoms could be psychosomatic.When contacted by this newspaper, one of those diplomats was wary about people questioning the syndrome. That diplomat, who uses the pseudonym Diplomat Allen, is among 15 Canadian diplomatic staff and their families suffering from Havana Syndrome. They are suing the federal government for $28 million, citing lack of support, information and treatment, among other things.He and his family began experiencing mysterious symptoms now associated with the syndrome when they were living in Havana in 2017.Allen and his family left Havana in the fall of 2017 after a series of unexplained events, including a screeching metallic sound in the middle of the night that left them with a variety of symptoms including nausea, uncontrolled nosebleeds, headaches and cognitive difficulties.During the summer of 2017, before the family returned to Ottawa, their three Shih Tzu dogs were behaving strangely, said Allen. Almost every night, the dogs would run to the corner of their yard backing on to a house where American diplomatic staff lived and bark frantically, for no apparent reason. “There was nothing there.”The dogs were shipped back to Ottawa after the family returned. One of them, a seven-year-old, subsequently began behaving strangely — suddenly biting at non-existent flies, arching its back and lying on its back and putting its feet in the air. A veterinarian diagnosed seizures and told the family there was something wrong with the dog’s brain. The vet recommended the dog be euthanized.Allen passed the information to a medical official at Global Affairs who asked if they could arrange for an autopsy on the dog. The autopsy was conducted in Kemptville, where the University of Guelph has a campus.Later, Allen and his wife, along with other Canadian diplomats from Havana, travelled to Halifax where they are being assessed and studied at Dalhousie University’s Brain Repair Centre. Doctors there obtained a sample of the dog’s brain, said Allen.In December, researchers at Dalhousie told Allen they had found “something significant” in the dog’s brain and needed more samples. “It could be related,” Allen was told.Any links may help fill in the many blanks surrounding the mysterious syndrome.Researchers at Dalhousie are continuing to study the Canadian diplomats and spouses. Allen said he has been told “they were amazed” at what they found through MRIs of the diplomats’ brains and other tests.“All of us have brain bleeds that we shouldn’t have — and our thought processes are slower than people our age,” he said. MRIs show bleeds coming from small capillaries in their brains, he said, which are completely different from the control group. “For us, this is the concrete evidence we needed that this was real.”Canadian diplomats and families have also been diagnosed with vestibular and vision disorders, cognitive disorders and other issues.There is a small sense of relief at seeing some concrete evidence, but for Allen and others, that does little to allay fears about the future. Those with young children are particularly worried about how they might be affected in the long term.Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said the affected diplomats have Canada’s “utmost sympathy and support.”Meanwhile, there are more questions than answers about how and why the damage occurred.Were Canadians collateral damage or targets? What kind of weapons were used? And why?Daniel Livermore, a former foreign service officer who is a senior fellow at uOttawa’s department of public and international affairs, said there is little more than speculation about the source of the mysterious injuries to diplomats — one is that Havana Syndrome resulted from some sort of eavesdropping device gone awry, another is that the injuries are the result of targeted weapons.The Havana Syndrome Part 1: Why Canadian diplomats have accused their government of abandoning themCuba, which has always had good international relations with Canada, is not considered to be behind the attacks, if that is what they were. Russia and China are both considered possible suspects if there were attacks with weapons.As to what kind of weapons, there are still more questions.“I don’t know how this is being weaponized,” Livermore said of speculation that the damage was done with microwave weapons. “I don’t even know what the motivation would be. I don’t see a motive,” he email@example.comALSO IN THE NEWSWilson-Raybould can speak about SNC-Lavalin affair at committee: TrudeauWas pro-Huawei news conference independent, or evidence of Beijing’s covert campaign to influence Canadians?Brain researchers warn that lack of sleep is a public health crisis