Mass psychogenic illness identified as the likely cause of Havana Syndrome

Dozens of embassy staff reported an array of complaints that have baffled the medical community, the most prominent being concussion-like symptoms without head trauma. U.S. Government physicians have promoted the theory that the diplomats and their families were the victims of a sonic attack. Studies of the embassy patients have been inconclusive. In their book Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria, the authors Robert W. Baloh and Robert E. Bartholomew observe that the outbreak is notably similar to the appearance of 'shell shock' and other combat syndromes. The two medical experts conclude that neurological complaints from an overstimulated nervous system have been misdiagnosed as concussions and brain damage when the real cause is stress.

The book is a case study in how inadequate, deliberately false or misleading information can lead to real physical suffering, and in the case of the Havana illnesses, can have global political consequences. The authors observe that a signature feature of shell shock was concussion-like symptoms, which, like today, initially baffled physicians until a more careful review of the evidence revealed that they were seeing an outbreak of psychogenic illness. Remarkably, some of the descriptions from 100 years ago are virtually identical to those of today, including the use of the phrase 'concussion-like symptoms.' Recordings of the 'sonic attacks' have now been identified as the mating calls of crickets and cicadas.

Havana Syndrome reflects "an extraordinary tale of international intrigue, flawed science, political ineptitude, and the mating habits of two most unlikely suspects: crickets and cicadas", state the authors. They describe different types of psychogenic illnesses from the 18th-century belief that listening to certain musical instruments made people ill, to telephone sickness and Wind Turbine Syndrome as they analyse mass hysteria through the ages. Throughout its 11 chapters, the book illustrates how government and journalistic institutions have failed and thereby highlights not just the power of individuals, but the responsibility of the media.

This book is an important reference for professionals in journalism, political professions and medical personnel. It also addresses a lay audience who seeks to gain an insight into the reality of how today's mass media work. Ultimately, it is an excellent source for anyone interested in ways how to digest and evaluate information critically.

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