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Havana Syndrome

Havana Syndrome

Why in news?

  • Recently, two US officials have shown symptoms of a mystery illness that is linked to Havana Syndrome.
  • In 2020, a report by the National Academies of Sciences (NAS), US found directed microwave radiation to be the plausible cause of the Havana syndrome.
  • According to leading experts in the field, in recent years portable microwave weapons with the capability to cause the mysterious series of “Havana Syndrome” brain injuries in US diplomats and spies have been developed by several countries.

The ‘Havana syndrome’

  • In late 2016, US diplomats in Havana reported feeling ill after hearing strange sounds and experiencing odd physical sensations in their hotel rooms or homes.
  • The symptoms included nausea, severe headaches, fatigue, dizziness, sleep problems, and hearing loss, which have since come to be known as “Havana Syndrome”.
  • Although there were no casualties, the aftereffect of the syndrome could still be felt by a few diplomats
  • The US had even accused Cuba of carrying out sonic attacks. But Cuba denied the accusations of the sonic attacks and refused awareness of any such illness or syndrome
  • Ever since many bodies and institutions have been researching the cause of the Havana syndrome and many plausible factors have been discovered till date

Key Findings of National Academies of Sciences (NAS) on the Syndrome

  • The National Academies of Sciences, USA has been researching on four probable causes of the syndrome since 2016, These include infection, chemical, psychological factors and microwave energy
  • NAS first considered the cause to be some kind of a psychological factor due to the stress of handling an overseas project. But this theory could not be proved
  • In 2020, NAS came up a conclusive report that a plausible cause could have been microwave radiations
  • Directed pulsed microwave radiation energy justifies all the symptoms which were reported by the affected people
  • The source of energy transmission has however not yet been mentioned by NAS
  • The peculiar sound which could be heard may have emanated from a particular direction or a particular spot

What are Microwave weapons?

  • “Microwave weapons” are supposed to be a type of Direct Energy Weapon (DEW), which aim highly focused energy in the form of sonic, laser, or microwaves, at a target.
  • People exposed to high-intensity microwave pulses have reported a clicking or buzzing sound, as if seeming to be coming from within your head.
  • It can have both acute and long-term effects — without leaving signs of physical damage.

Countries with Microwave Weapons

  • A number of countries are thought to have developed these weapons to target both humans and electronic systems.              Havana Syndrome
  • China had first put on display its microwave weapon, called Poly WB-1, at an air show in 2014.
  • The US has also developed a prototype microwave-style weapon, which it calls the “Active Denial System”, which is the first non-lethal, directed-energy, counter-personnel system with an extended range greater than currently fielded non-lethal weapons.

Mass Psychogenic Illness

  • Mass psychogenic illness is when people in a group start feeling sick at the same time even though there is no physical or environmental reason for them to be sick.
  • They could think they’ve been exposed to something dangerous, like a germ or a toxin (poison).

India’s Plans for Directed Energy Weapons

  • Recently, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has announced its plans to develop (DEWs) using high-energy lasers and microwaves.
  • Development of DEWs is seen as particularly important in the context of India’s worsening security environment, especially its ties with China.

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