Cautionary Tales – Sonic Poison? The genesis of Havana syndrome

9th June, 2023

CIA agents in Havana complaining of mental fog, dizziness, ear pain in 2016. Children in Miami in 1974, hyperventilating and wracked with abdominal pain. A medieval outbreak of the “dancing plague”. A chorus of meowing nuns.

These mysterious events may have a single, simple explanation — one that’s often overlooked when it comes to understanding strange new syndromes.

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Further reading

Robert W. Baloh and Robert E. Bartholomew explore events in Cuba in their 2020 book Havana Syndrome: Mass Psychogenic Illness and the Real Story Behind the Embassy Mystery and Hysteria, in the context of a useful historical overview of psychogenic illness. The authors discuss events subsequent to the publication of their book in a 2022 interview in the New Humanist. We also drew on reports about Havana Syndrome in the New York Times and ProPublica.

Joel Nitzkin recounts the story of how he diagnosed children at a Florida elementary school with mass hysteria in Sandy, an article in the New Yorker by Berton Roueché published on August 14, 1978.

The Coca-Cola incident in Belgium, June 1999 is an analysis published in the journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology. Crisis management in Belgium: the case of Coca-Cola is published in Corporate Communications: An International Journal.

An outbreak of illness among schoolchildren in London: toxic poisoning not mass hysteria is an article in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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