WASHINGTON - The official number of victims of a mysterious sonic technology used in Cuba grew Thursday to "at least 16," although a Local 10 News source in Havana reported there were 19 victims whose health was affected.
The victims include U.S. State Department employees and their relatives. They started to report symptoms such as headaches and nausea late last year, but officials haven't released details on the extent of their health issues.
"I know that they have been going through the process of bringing the majority of those people back to have through testing," White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during the Thursday press briefing.
U.S. officials had not disclosed the number of victims reporting hearing loss since they released a report identifying a covert sonic device as the culprit of a health attack. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the investigation is ongoing.
"We take this situation extremely seriously," Nauert said during the Thursday press briefing.
U.S. laws protect the privacy of the diplomats' medical records. While most of the details remain a mystery, CNN reported at least one needed a hearing aid. The New York Times reported one had a more serious illness that involved a blood disorder. And on Wednesday, CBS News reported some diplomats suffered traumatic brain injuries and damage to the central nervous system.
As a result of the incident, the U.S. expelled two Cuban diplomats May 23. The Cuban Foreign Ministry released a statement saying "Cuba has never allowed or will it allow the Cuban territory to be used for any action against accredited diplomatic officials or their families, without exception."
Cubans have good relations with Canadians, so there was confusion when the Canadian Global Affairs spokeswoman Brianne Maxwell said in August that at least one of their diplomats in Cuba was also treated for hearing loss.
"The government is actively working -- including with U.S. and Cuban authorities -- to ascertain the cause," Maxwell said.
FBI agents are assisting the State Department's bureau of diplomatic security with the investigation. U.S. and Cuban officials will meet next month to discuss the incidents.
Local 10 News' Palombo reported from Washington, Vela reported from Havana and Torres reported from Miami.
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