Ramsay Hunt: The Rare Medical Syndrome Targeting Hollywood

Universal

| LAST UPDATE 06/16/2022

By Stanley Wickens
justin bieber sick virus
Mike Rosenthal / Contributor via Getty Images

28-year-old Canadian singer Justin Bieber recently revealed that he's been diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt Syndrome. In the clip, his millions of followers could see that one side of the artist's face was paralyzed, forcing him to cancel future concert dates. But what exactly is the rare medical condition? We're here to explain. 

Ramsay Hunt syndrome is caused by the varicella-zoster virus - the same virus that causes chickenpox. Normally, a person infected with the virus makes a full recovery. However, sometimes, the virus can remain dormant in the body for several years - even decades. It hides in the dorsal root ganglion, which is a collection of nerve cells near the spinal cord. As long as the virus is dormant in the body, no symptoms will appear on the person - but sometimes, it becomes reactivated. This can happen for several reasons - either spontaneously or due to a certain trigger, such as a different infection (like Covid-19, for example), having a weakened immune system, or stress. 

Ramsay Hunt syndrome bieber
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The reactivation of the virus normally shows up in one area of the body (typically the torso), appearing as a painful rash and blisters called shingles. But in specific cases where the reactivation of the virus affects the facial nerve, it can lead to a condition known as Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, named after James Ramsay Hunt, the first doctor to diagnose it in 1907. It's quite a rare condition, affecting only 5 in 100,000 people per year.

So how does this condition cause damage to the face? It hits the facial canal, which connects the facial nerve to the brain on each side of the face. Since this narrow canal is inside a very dense piece of bone, it can become damaged with the slightest inflammation. Its location deep in the skull makes the resulting disorder very difficult to treat. The facial paralysis that happens as a consequence of the disorder, the ability to move the muscles of the face, makes it difficult to smile or frown. It may also limit the affected person's ability to blink, speak, and taste. Normally, the condition is treated with antiviral drugs, steroids, and painkillers, which are most effective when treatment begins in the earlier stages. In fact, 70 percent of people treated within the first three days make a full recovery, as opposed to just 50 percent for anyone left untreated for longer than that. One thing we can be sure of, though, is that Justin Bieber has some of the best medical professionals at his side. Hoping to see him make a full recovery. Be sure to stay tuned for more breaking news from the medical world...

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