The State Department evacuated at least two more Americans from the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, China, on Wednesday after they began showing signs of a mysterious illness, The New York Times reported.
The new cases came just weeks after the first report of a sick U.S. consulate employee in Guangzhou. Each experienced symptoms that resemble an illness which has affected dozens of Americans in Cuba since 2016. They reported hearing strange noises and suffering from “dizziness, headaches, tinnitus, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, ear complaints and hearing loss and difficulty sleeping,” the State Department said in a statement on Tuesday.
Officials said the safety of American personnel and their families was their “top priority.”
“As soon as the State Department received medical confirmation that one U.S. government employee had suffered a medical incident that was consistent with what American personnel in Havana, Cuba had experienced, the State Department deployed a medical team to Guangzhou, China to conduct a medical screening of all U.S. government employees and family members who requested it,” agency spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement.
Nauert also said medical professionals will “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.”
Last month, the State Department issued a health alert for travelers to Guangzhou, saying an employee had reported “subtle and vague, but abnormal, sensations of sound and pressure.” Despite the hazy description, the agency said it took the report seriously and warned anyone experiencing similar symptoms to consult with a doctor.
One of the diplomats in China who reported symptoms described his experience to The Washington Post, saying he was in his apartment when he heard something like “marbles bouncing and hitting a floor, then rolling on an incline with a static sound.” The man, a Foreign Service officer at the Guangzhou consulate, said he began experiencing headaches and sleeplessness several months later, as did his wife and 3-year-old child.
Since 2016, 24 employees at the American embassy in Cuba and their family members have reported similar episodes. The Times reported that the illnesses frayed some diplomatic relations with Cuba, but the recent reports have led others to consider if another country may be involved, including China or Russia.
Cuba has repeatedly denied any responsibility.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confirmed the similarities between the cases to the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month.
“The medical indications are very similar and entirely consistent with the medical indications that have taken place to Americans working in Cuba,” he told lawmakers. “We are working to figure out what took place, both in Havana and now in China as well.”
The State Department has formed a task force to investigate the illnesses.