US Consulte General, Guangzhou. Picture: SUPPLIED
US Consulte General, Guangzhou. Picture: SUPPLIED

Beijing — The US embassy in China issued a health alert on Wednesday after a US government worker experienced an "abnormal" sound and suffered a mild brain injury — in an incident reminiscent of a mysterious illness that hit diplomats in Cuba.

US and Chinese authorities are investigating after the employee, who was assigned to the southern city of Guangzhou, was diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), said the embassy’s Jinnie Lee.

In an alert e-mailed to US citizens in China, the embassy said it does not know what caused the symptoms or of any similar situations in the country.

In Cuba last year, the US disclosed that 24 diplomats and their family members had fallen victim to an unsolved mysterious attack that left them with injuries resembling brain trauma. Ten Canadian diplomats and their relatives also suffered a strange illness. "We cannot, at this time, connect it with what happened in Havana but we are investigating all possibilities," a US embassy official in Beijing said on condition of anonymity.

The embassy’s health alert says the government employee "recently reported subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure".

"The US government is taking these reports seriously and has informed its official staff in China of this event," the message says. "While in China, if you experience any unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena … move to a location where the sounds are not present," it says, urging people with medical problems to consult a doctor.

Lee said the employee experienced "a variety of physical symptoms" between late 2017 and April 2018. The person was sent to the US and diagnosed with MTBI on May 18.

"The Chinese government has assured us they are also investigating and taking appropriate measures," Lee said. China’s foreign ministry could not be reached for comment.

In Cuba, the American victims had associated the onset of their symptoms with "unusual sounds or auditory sensations", a US state department physician told the US senate in January. Charles Rosenfarb, a doctor and director of the state department bureau of medical services, said the symptoms were mixed but consistent with brain trauma.

AFP