Do You Hear Something? The Strange Happenings in Cuba & China

Posted on Jun 25, 2018

Strange things are happening to American workers abroad. If you’re thinking of sending employees—or already have employees—in China or Cuba, this blog is for you.


The curious occurrences began in Cuba. From late 2016 to August 2017, numerous U.S. Embassy employees reported hearing unusual and disturbing directional sounds including buzzing, piercing squeals, pressure, and vibrations. Reports followed of symptoms similar to a concussion after a brain injury: headaches, nausea, hearing loss, cognitive issues, trouble sleeping, dizziness, confusion, loss of balance, and mild brain trauma. In a statement from the American Foreign Service Association, officials described these incidents as “sonic harassment.”

However, thus far, there has been no evidence of any nefarious sonic device. More puzzling, no one—including top scientists, researchers, and doctors— seems to have any clue why this keeps happening to Americans.

Regardless of the source—sonic attack or not— extensive medical testing has indeed confirmed injury to widespread brain networks to the affected U.S. employees.

“Because our personnel's safety is at risk, and we are unable to identify the source, we believe U.S. citizens may also be at risk,” the warning on the U.S State Department’s website reads.

The warning goes on to explain that the U.S. Embassy in Havana is operating with severely reduced staffing after many employees have been evacuated, and thus they have limited ability to assist U.S. citizens, particularly outside Havana. The State Department also advises travelers to avoid the Hotel Nacional and Hotel Capri; know where to seek medical care in Cuba; draft a contingency plan for emergency situations; and consult with a medical professional prior to traveling if you have concerns, or upon return if you have similar symptoms. They also recommend reviewing their Traveler’s Checklist.

Cuba is on the “Reconsider Travel” list.



The latest confirmed cases—bringing the total to 26—  have happened to American workers in China. The first incident prompted the State Department to issue a health warning for all US citizens in China. After the second attack, the State Department flew in a medical team to test other employees at the American consulate. More people are expected to be evacuated. 

China has a huge global corporate presence. Do your employees based in China understand the health risks? As part of your duty of care, you have a moral and legal responsibility for all of your employees’ health and safety, no matter where in the world they are.

Here are the cautionary words from the U.S. Embassy & Consulates in China: “If you or members of your family experience any unusual, unexplained physical symptoms or events, auditory or sensory phenomena, or other health concerns, please contact your health care provider to determine whether a medical evaluation and/or treatment is advisable. Symptoms to be attentive for include dizziness, headaches, tinnitus, fatigue, cognitive issues, visual problems, ear complaints and hearing loss, and difficulty sleeping.”

China is on the “Exercise Increased Caution” list.


Your Employees

Employees traveling abroad are already at the disadvantage of being thrown into an unfamiliar environment, with its own set of norms, laws, and customs. When a mysterious illness is added to that environment, and nobody knows exactly where it’s coming from, a solid risk management plan becomes even more crucial.

It’s important for your employees to know that medical care in foreign countries may not meet U.S. standards, and that many health facilities face shortages of medical supplies and bed space.  

In addition, many domestic health insurance companies do not provide coverage outside of the United States, so before embarking on a trip to a country with a medical alert, travelers should speak with their health insurance providers to determine if they will be covered. Medical evacuations just the few miles from Cuba to the United States can cost more than $50,000 out of pocket!

It's a good idea for your organization to do a full rundown of the scope of restrictions on American travel before any trip— especially if it’s Cuba or China. Hear the warning bells?

NC4's Risk Center™ will enhance your company's ability to keep employees safe worldwide. Contact one of our travel risk management specialists at 877-624-4999 for additional information. Learn more about travel safety, business solutions, corporate security, and more by reading our blogs


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