Canadian Contagion

  • Robert W. BalohEmail author
  • Robert E. Bartholomew


This chapter examines attempts to explain how the outbreaks of mysterious illness among American embassy diplomats, spread to Canadian embassy staff and their families. Of interest is how the media helped to frame the symptoms, and how the Canadian experience was different to the American patients, with a distinct absence of anomalous sounds accompanying their health complaints. Two 2019 studies of embassy patients (one involving Americans, the other of Canadians), drew very different conclusions. While a study of American subjects found evidence of brain trauma, there were serious limitations. For instance, the researchers were forced to acknowledge that while there were differences in the brain scans when compared to a group of controls, they could not rule out the possibility that the differences were caused by individual variation. Furthermore, 12 of those affected had pre-existing histories of concussion compared to zero among the healthy controls. This could account for the differences between the two groups. A second study, of Canadian patients, concluded that the likely cause was insecticide from mosquito fumigation. This study has significant design flaws, including a range of nonspecific tests, had no adequate control group, and cannot explain why there has not been an epidemic of concussion-like symptoms across Cuba.


Rumor Social contagion Mass sociogenic illness Collective unexplained symptoms Conversion disorder Mass hysteria Functional neurological symptom disorder Anxiety Social panic Public health Nocebo effect Contested diagnoses The politics of illness 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Neurology and Head and Neck SurgeryDavid Geffen School of Medicine at UCLALos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Psychological MedicineUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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