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Less Sinister Theory Emerges in Mystery Cuba Illnesses

Ailments coincided with increased fumigation for zika
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 20, 2019 9:31 AM CDT
A man walks beside Canada's embassy in Havana, Cuba.   (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan, File)
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(Newser) – A new study into the mysterious ailments that plagued US and Canadian diplomats in Cuba has come up with a theory far less sinister than a sonic attack. Researchers say fumigation for mosquitoes might be to blame, reports the Toronto Star. The study, commissioned by the Canadian government, found that the concussion-like symptoms that spread throughout the diplomatic community were consistent with those that would result from low-dose exposure to neurotoxins, per the CBC. And sure enough, the researchers discovered that around the time symptoms began appearing in 2016, Cuba had ramped up fumigation around diplomats' residences because of growing concerns over the Zika virus, reports Reuters.

“While other causes cannot be ruled out, our findings point to an environmental risk with immediate implications for prevention, screening, and follow up,” says the study. Specifically, researchers concluded that the brain injuries likely surfaced because something blocked an enzyme called cholinesterase, which is vital for the central nervous system. Some pesticides work by doing precisely that. If fumigation is the culprit, it would seem that the mystery ailments would have shown up in the broader population as well. Lead researcher Alon Friedman of Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia says his team plans to work with Cuban scientists in another study to see if that was the case. (Everything from spytech to microwave weapons have been blamed previously.)

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