Researchers Study if Ultrasound Causes Illnesses Like Cuba, China Incidents?

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Researchers are studying whether ultrasound can make people sick after American diplomats in Cuba and China reported hearing odd sounds in their apartments before falling ill with symptoms like nausea, headaches and hearing loss, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Ultrasonic sound is any sound above the 20,000 Hz limit of human hearing. It is used in many industries, including medicine and telecommunications, but experts say the side effects from transmissions remain a mystery.

The State Department evacuated at least two more Americans from China in early June after they started showing symptoms similar to those “following concussion or minor traumatic brain injury,” cases that broadened a medical mystery that started in 2016 when U.S. embassy employees and their family members started getting sick in Havana. In total, 24 Americans in Cuba got sick with headaches, hearing loss, nausea, cognitive issues and other symptoms after saying they heard odd sounds.

A medical team at the University of Pennsylvania said the employees from Cuba “appeared to have sustained injury to widespread brain networks,” and described their ailments as a new neurological syndrome, while neuroscientists at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Trento in Italy said evidence of such a condition was “almost unbelievably flimsy.”

U.S. and Chinese researchers specializing in ultrasonic cybersecurity told the WSJ that a badly engineered eavesdropping device could be at fault, or that noise generated by the intersection of ultrasound beams was a possibility for the sounds heard.

“Normally you wouldn’t hear ultrasonics, but if you mix the signals together — like crossing the beams in ‘Ghostbusters’—you get these audible sounds,” said Kevin Fu, director of the Security and Privacy Research group at the University of Michigan. “It is so easy to do. It’s child’s play.”

Cuba said it had no explanation for the illnesses, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week announced that the U.S. in May established a Health Incidents Response Task Force to look into the “unexplained health incidents.”

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