The Vice President of the United States of America Kamala Harris will arrive in Hanoi late evening on Tuesday, hours later than scheduled. VP Harris was supposed to leave Singapore, the first leg of her official Southeast Asia trip, at 4pm (Singapore time), and land in Vietnam's capital city at around 7pm.
Reporters traveling with the vice president were abruptly sent back to the Shangri-La hotel shortly after 3:30 pm local time after being loaded into vans for the planned departure from Paya Lebar Air Base, Bloomberg reported.
“Earlier this evening, the vice president’s traveling delegation was delayed from departing Singapore because the vice president’s office was made aware of a report of a recent possible anomalous health incident in Hanoi, Vietnam,” the US Embassy in Hanoi said in a statement.
“After careful assessment, the decision was made to continue with the vice president’s trip.”
VP Harris is the first ever US vice president to visit Vietnam.
Delays in official trips by foreign officials are normal and uncommon, but a delay of that length was considerably unusual.
The US State Department frequently uses “anomalous health incidents” to describe Havana Syndrome. The mysterious illness, as referred to by medical professionals, have affected several American and Canadian diplomats and embassy staff in recent years. Just last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that two American officials in Germany had suffered with the disease, in addition to more than 200 people in different parts of the world who have said to have reported symptoms.
The White House has not confirmed the exact reason for the delay or if any member of the traveling delegation showed symptoms similar to those of Havana syndrome cases.
What is Havana Syndrome?
According to MedicineNet, Havana syndrome is a series of debilitating symptoms that first affected US intelligence officers and embassy staffers stationed in Havana, Cuba, in late 2016. In the following year, American diplomats in different parts of the world reported similar symptoms.
Researchers investigating the condition have stated that Havana syndrome, which was initially dismissed as mass hysteria or a reaction caused by psychosomatic causes such as stress, may be a result of microwave weaponry. Symptoms are similar to those of a concussion or mild head injury and have mostly been reported by diplomats, intelligence officers, military personnel, and their family members deployed on foreign soil.
Diplomats affected by the disease reported to have heard a loud piercing sound at night and felt intense pressure in the face, which were then followed by pain, nausea and dizziness.
While the high-pitched ringing in the ears eventually stopped, many people complained of continued pain and dizziness. Patients also said they had trouble concentrating, which affected their work. Some personnel even had to step down from active service due to complications linked to Havana syndrome.
Confusion and disorientation, which started with sudden onset of pain and pressure in the head and ears, were also experienced by those who have been suspected with Havana syndrome.
The long-term symptoms of Havana syndrome include:
Problems with distant vision
Experts state that overall symptoms are akin to those reported by individuals with head injuries, although none of the personnel reported a blow to the head or related preexisting health conditions.
Medical experts initially suspected accidental or deliberate exposure to a toxic chemical, pesticide or drug as the cause of Havana syndrome. However, none of these were found in affected people.
Others have argued that the symptoms may be related to stress experienced by foreign diplomats, whose jobs entail intense pressure, not to mention they are under constant surveillance by their home country and the country they’re working in.
MedicineNet also wrote that the disease could be likely caused by some type of mechanical device that emits ultrasonic or microwave energy. Such radiofrequency energy exposure through highly specialized bioweaponry could potentially create microbubbles in the fluid inside a person’s ear. When those bubbles travel through the blood into the brain, they can cause minute air emboli that result in cell damage, similar to decompression sickness - a disorder usually experienced by deep-sea divers.
Another explanation is that symptoms may be due to direct penetration of radiofrequency waves into the skull, which disrupts electrical and chemical activity in the brain and rewires certain neural pathways. This rewiring may be the reason that the symptoms seem profound and have long-lasting sequelae.
Havana syndrome is not fatal, the medical website noted.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of affected individuals compared with those of healthy individuals show differences in the white matter (the paler tissue of the brain and spinal cord that mainly contains bundles of myelinated nerve fibers) structure.
“This supports the hypothesis that Havana syndrome is a disorder involving non-specific and unfathomable changes in brain activity and structure,” reads the MedicineNet report.
Treatments for these changes include alternative medicine techniques including art therapy, meditation, breathing exercises and acupuncture.
Rehabilitation programs that include neurological and cognitive exercises (repetitive complex movements of the upper and lower limbs and balance challenges) were proven to be partially effective, but still needs further research.