US Says More Diplomats in China Hit by Mystery Illness

June 7, 2018 7:27 am Last Updated: June 7, 2018 3:36 pm

WASHINGTON/GUANGZHOU—The U.S. State Department has brought a group of diplomats home from Guangzhou City in southern China, over concerns they were suffering from a mysterious malady that resembles a brain injury and has already affected U.S. personnel in Cuba, a spokeswoman said.

After confirming one government employee had “suffered a medical incident” in Guangzhou, the department deployed a team to screen employees and family members at its consulate there, spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement on June 6.

“As a result of the screening process so far, the department has sent a number of individuals for further evaluation and a comprehensive assessment of their symptoms and findings in the United States,” Nauert said.

“Medical professionals will continue to conduct full evaluations to determine the cause of the reported symptoms and whether the findings are consistent with those noted in previously affected government personnel or possibly completely unrelated,” she said.

The New York Times reported that the State Department had evacuated at least two Americans who fell ill after hearing strange noises in China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday that as far as she was aware, the government had not had any formal communication with U.S. officials on any new cases, and that it had investigated an initial incident.

Four American members of staff at the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou referred Reuters to the Beijing embassy press office when asked about the situation.

A U.S. government official there said that there had been only one confirmed case in China, announced last month, and the State Department was offering screening to anyone in the U.S. embassy or consulates in China who requested it.

In addition to the Beijing embassy and Guangzhou consulate, the United States operates consulates in the mainland Chinese cities of Chengdu, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Wuhan.

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

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

Secretary of State Mike 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.”

“The precise nature of the injuries suffered by the affected personnel, and whether a common cause exists for all cases, has not yet been established,” Pompeo said.

By Lisa Lambert and Sue-Lin Wong