Canadian singer-songwriter Justin Bieber poses for a photograph.
Fans of JBiebz — and practically everyone plugged into pop culture — are buzzing over Justin Bieber’s Instagram disclosure that he is experiencing facial paralysis after a viral infection led to a condition called Ramsay Hunt syndrome.
Here’s a look at Ramsay Hunt syndrome and what you can do to protect yourself against the common virus, according to UpToDate, an electronic medical encyclopedia used by health care practitioners determine diagnoses and treatment.
What is Ramsay Hunt syndrome?
Ramsay Hunt is facial paralysis caused by varicella-zoster virus (VZV) infection of the facial cranial nerve. People with Ramsay Hunt often have associated ear pain, vertigo, and altered taste perception. Ramsay Hunt is a rare disease diagnosed in 5 people out of every 100,000 in a year in the United States.
Viewers of Bieber’s Instagram video may have noticed his face drooping slightly, with his eye most visibly impacted.
The same virus that causes chicken pox?
Varicella-zoster virus is also responsible for those itchy chicken pox spots that normally go away after 7-10 days post-infection. Sometimes during the course of chicken pox, the virus infects sensory neurons that are responsible for relaying information about the environment to the brain. This sensory nerve infection is what causes shingles later down the road.
The difference between chicken pox and shingles has to do with timing and severity. Chicken pox happens first, but most of the time the bright red rash goes away by itself. Shingles happens after the initial chicken pox exposure and can have more serious complications.
So does Justin Bieber also have chicken pox or shingles?
Not that we’re aware of. While the infection of the same virus causes all three conditions, Bieber only publicly shared symptoms of Ramsay Hunt. In his Instagram video, Bieber said the right side of his face is paralyzed and explained how this impacts his ability to perform.
Can I protect myself against VZV, chicken pox, shingles, and Ramsay Hunt?
The varicella vaccine is 90% effective at preventing chicken pox and may lower the risk for getting shingles later in life. If you’re not already vaccinated, think about getting a shot. The virus spreads through airborne droplets and direct contact, so you should limit exposure to someone who has an active VZV infection. The rash is considered infectious until it dries out and crusts over.
Do people diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt recover normal facial expressions?
Doctors can prescribe an antiviral medication that can fight the varicella virus. However, they don’t work in every patient, and sometimes the facial paralysis is permanent.