Related topics

Team Studying Mystery Blindness in Cuba

May 21, 1993

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ A team of international specialists working in Cuba is trying to pinpoint the cause of a mystery affliction that has blinded thousands of Cubans.

″It’s really very baffling. There’s no precedent for this kind of epidemic,″ said Dan Epstein, a spokesman at the U.N.-affiliated Pan-American Health Organization, interviewed Thursday by telephone from Washington.

Nearly 26,000 cases of partial or total blindness have been diagnosed across the Communist island, reeling from a severe food shortage that the government blames on the U.S. trade embargo, the withdrawal of Soviet bloc support and bad weather.

Epstein said the 10 doctors and specialists, who are to remain in Cuba at least through Monday, were studying theories that food shortages, pesticides or even a virus was to blame.

Cuban Deputy Health Minister Jorge Antelo Perez had told the U.N. World Health Organization at a recent meeting in Geneva that Cuban doctors fear the affliction involves the nervous system. He said doctors have found no parallels in medical literature.

Initially the illness was blamed on a lack of vitamin B, found in dairy products, red meats and cereals, all extremely scarce in Cuba.

Epstein said the doctors were even examining a possible link to smoking because a high percentage of the cases involve smokers.

″It could be neurological, it could be nutritional, maybe all these people are eating some kind of fruit,″ he said. ″We are getting all kinds of weird calls and theories.″

Update hourly