On Saturday pop icon Justin Bieber told fans he has developed Ramsay Hunt Syndrome, which causes facial paralysis.
In a video posted to Instagram on Saturday morning (NZ time), Bieber, 28, described losing sensation and movement in his face due to the impact of the virus on nerves in his ear. In the clip, the right side of his face is immobile, unable to blink, move his nostril or raise his eyebrow.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Hunt’s syndrome, is caused by shingles, an adult form of the varicella-zoster virus, or chickenpox, appearing in the ear and throat.
Known as shingles due to the scaly red rash it produces, the disease is really a reactivation of the virus in adults who originally contracted the disease as children.
In the US, about 30% of adults who contracted chickenpox as children go on to develop shingles. Hunt’s syndrome, however, is considered rare.
Shingles cause lots of little, incredibly painful, pus-filled blisters to pop up on the skin. When they appear in the ear throat or soft palate, they can signal the first symptoms of Hunt’s Syndrome.
During the relatively painless childhood illness, the virus travels to the roots of the nerve endings where it can lie dormant for years, before returning as an excruciating rash. The rash most commonly appears on the back or torso, but can also appear in random spots around the body.
It is not known what triggers the virus to become active again in adulthood.
According to Health.gov.nz, you cannot catch shingles from someone suffering from it. However, you can catch chickenpox from them if you have not had it before, you have close contact with the shingles patient, and the rash is not covered.
Hunt’s Syndrome is caused by shingles appearing on or near the facial nerve that passes in front of the ear.
As well as the rash, symptoms cam also include loss of movement to the same side of the face, loss of taste, tinnitus and a loss of hearing in the same ear.
The syndrome is treatable, and its effects do not have to be long term or permanent.
According to US Mount Sinai Hospital, treatments can include strong painkillers, a high dose of steroids and antiviral medicines. The sooner treatment begins, the better the outcome, as nerve damage caused by the virus can become permanent if left too long.
All Kiwi kids over 15 months are eligible for the chickenpox vaccine, it is free as part of the immunisation schedule, up to the age of 11. There is also vaccine for shingles. In New Zealand it is free for people who are 65. It is recommended for people over 50, however there is a fee for anyone under or over 65.