The U.S. State Department has sent “a number of individuals” from the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou, in southern China, back to the U.S. after indications they may have been struck by a mysterious illness. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the employees were evacuated for a “further evaluation and a comprehensive assessment of their symptoms and findings.” The agency did not specify the exact number of people evacuated, citing medical privacy concerns.
The U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou officially opened in 1979 and relocated to its current location in 2013. It’s one of five consulates the U.S. operates in China. On May 23, the State Department issued a health warning stating that an unnamed “U.S. government employee in China recently reported subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure.” After further investigation, it was found that the employee had been affected by an illness similar to what diplomats experienced in Havanna, Cuba in late 2016.
In the Cuba incident, 24 government employees or family members were found to be suffering from symptoms “similar to those noted following concussion or minor traumatic brain injury,” according to a State Department report. The symptoms included “dizziness, headaches, tinnitus, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, ear complaints and hearing loss, and difficulty sleeping.” Most of those affected in Havana now seem to have recovered. The government says it still doesn’t know the cause of the mysterious illness.
The illnesses among the American diplomats intensified tensions between the U.S. and Cuba. The U.S. pulled all nonessential staff out of Cuba in September. That was followed by the expulsion of 15 Cuban diplomats from the country a short time later. Cuba has denied involvement in the “unexplained health incidents”.
China’s government said that it investigated and could not find anything to cause the Guangzhou employee’s described symptoms. The foreign ministry said it is open to conducting further investigations if requested by the U.S. The State Department has sent a medical team to Guangzhou to screen any employees or family members who request a test. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is urging anyone with “concerns about symptoms or medical problems that developed during or after a stay in China” to “consult a medical professional.”