U.S. Expands China Health Alert Amid Mysterious Illness Reports

June 8, 2018 Updated: June 8, 2018

BEIJING—The U.S. State Department on June 8 issued an expanded health alert for all of China amid reports that some U.S. diplomats based in the country had experienced a mysterious malady resembling a brain injury. 

The symptoms are similar to those exhibited by U.S. personnel in Cuba after they heard strange noises in an apparent sonic attack.

A previous statement in May only mentioned the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou as the location for the health alert, though it was sent to U.S. citizens throughout the country.

The State Department had confirmed earlier that one U.S. employee assigned to the consulate in Guangzhou had “suffered a medical incident,” and that it had deployed a team to screen employees and family members there.

On June 6, the U.S. government said that it had brought a group of people from that consulate back to the United States for further evaluation of their symptoms, and that it was offering screening to anyone at the U.S. embassy in Beijing or other consulates in China who requested it.

The United States also operates consulates in the mainland Chinese cities of Chengdu, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Wuhan.

The location of the health alert was changed to “countrywide” from Guangzhou in the updated statement sent by email.

“The State Department received medical confirmation that a U.S. government employee in China suffered a medical incident consistent with what other U.S. government personnel experienced in Havana, Cuba,” the statement said, reiterating comments made last month by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

It warned of “unexplained physical symptoms or events, auditory or sensory phenomena,” and said symptoms of the ailment included dizziness, headaches, tinnitus, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, ear complaints, and hearing loss, as well as difficulty sleeping.

China has said that it thoroughly investigated the initial case reported by the United States and found no reasons or clues to explain it.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on June 7 that as far as she was aware there had not been any formal communication between the two countries on any new cases.

Last year, 24 U.S. government employees and family members in Cuba displayed the symptoms, which were similar to those related to concussion and mild traumatic brain injury, according to the State Department.

The illnesses among the American diplomats stationed in Havana heightened tension between the old Cold War foes.

Pompeo released a statement on June 5 saying the department established a task force last month “to direct a multi-agency response to the unexplained health incidents.”

By Michael Martina.