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12.20.2019

Dr. Michael Hoffer Presents Havana Embassy Findings to Committee of National Academies

When the U.S. Department of State requested scientific guidance on unexplained health effects on government employees and families at overseas embassies, an expert from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine was invited to a presentation and panel discussion of the situation December 18 and 19 in Washington.

“It was a great honor to be asked to present our Miller School team’s findings on the health of individuals at the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba,” said Michael E. Hoffer, M.D., professor of otolaryngology and neurological surgery. “Hopefully, these discussions will lead to a better understanding of the problem and illuminate the path forward.”

Beginning in 2016, U.S. government employees in Havana reported severe, unexplained health problems, including ear pain, dizziness and other neurological disturbances. In response, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine convened a standing committee to advise the U.S. Department of State on determining possible causes, preventing future incidents, and identifying areas for further research.

On December 18, Dr. Hoffer gave the opening presentation and later took part in follow-up discussions at the standing committee’s first meeting. “Standing committees of the National Academies bring together a range of experts to examine the evidence and provide analysis,” he said. “This standing committee is expected to hold several more sessions, and it is too early in the process to draw definitive conclusions.”

Last December, Miller School physicians presented the first report of acute symptoms and clinical findings in 35 diplomatic personnel living in the U.S. Embassy in Havana who experienced severe neurosensory symptoms after exposure to a unique sound and pressure phenomenon.

“Objective testing showed evidence of a balance disorder that affects the inner ear and a unique pattern of cognitive dysfunction,” said Dr. Hoffer. “This cluster of auditory and neurological symptoms, along with associated psychological issues, does not resemble traumatic brain injury based on our team’s vast experience in this area.”

Dr. Hoffer was lead author of the study, “Acute Findings in an Acquired Neurosensory Dysfunction,” published in Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology. Co-author Carey D. Balaban, Ph.D., professor of otolaryngology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, also spoke with the National Academies standing committee.

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