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Published: Sun, June 10, 2018
Global Media | By Abel Hampton

Mystery deepens over Americans' illness in China

Mystery deepens over Americans' illness in China

BEIJING-The U.S. State Department issued a health alert Friday to U.S. citizens living or travelling in China, advising them to seek medical attention if they experienced "auditory or sensory phenomena" similar to those experienced by U.S. diplomats evacuated to the United States.

The health alert was issued May 23 in Guangzhou after a staffer at the US consulate there was diagnosed with a mild brain injury.

The Journal of the American Medical Association reported in March that a study of 21 former Havana staffers found "most experienced persistent cognitive, balance, hearing, oculomotor dysfunction, or all 4, as well as sleep impairment and headaches". The man, a Foreign Service officer at the Guangzhou consulate, said he began experiencing headaches and sleeplessness several months later, as did his wife and 3-year-old child. The foreign ministry said it takes its obligation to protect foreign diplomats seriously and is open to conducting further investigations if requested by the U.S.

While symptoms the diplomats and their family members experienced in Cuba varied, in all 24 medically confirmed cases victims have described some combination of the following: "sharp ear pain, tiresome headaches, ringing in one ear, vertigo, visual focusing issues, disorientation, nausea, and extreme fatigue".

Secretary Pompeo announced this week the establishment of a special task force to examine all similar incidents, which during the Rex Tillerson era the State Department described as "attacks".

Former State Department officials and diplomatic experts have pointed to similar incidents causing permanent cognitive issues occurring against US diplomats in Russian Federation during the Cold War.

US doctors later diagnosed that first employee, who the State Department evacuated from the Guangzhou-based consulate in April, with brain trauma.

"We recommend that the USA should not come to a conclusion too quickly that their consulate employees are attacked by external actors, but should conduct an investigation to look for an internal cause", the editorial said.

A US official, who wasn't authorized to discuss the situation publicly and requested anonymity, said the evacuated American government workers were being brought from China for testing to the University of Pennsylvania.

The department said on Wednesday that "a number of individuals" were sent to the United States for further evaluation following initial medical screenings. She said they are being offered to "any personnel who have noted concerning symptoms or wanted baseline screening".

"If there is really some problem, USA can directly connect and communicate with China and China will adopt a responsible attitude to investigate this", she said.

Those attacks began sometime in mid-to-late 2016, according to US officials who spoke to the Washington Free Beacon.

A U.S. official said the evacuated Americans are being brought for testing to the University of Pennsylvania.

The evacuation of the USA diplomats with mysterious illness comes at a time when the relations between Beijing and Washington were going through a tense phase as the two countries grappled to avert a trade war.

It serves four southern provinces with a combined population of more than 204 million and processes more than one million visa applications of all types annually.

China's state-run Global Times tabloid called the situation at the consulate "very odd".

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