JOURNAL ARTICLE
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Varicella zoster virus: beyond facial paralysis.

J. Ramsay Hunt's hypothesis that herpes zoster oticus results from a reactivation of the herpes zoster virus in the geniculate ganglion, has been supported by the demonstration of varicella zoster viral DNA in the geniculate ganglion of the side with facial paralysis in patients with Ramsay Hunt syndrome, with the use of the polymerase chain reaction. Similarly, DNA of the varicella zoster virus has been identified in the spiral and vestibular ganglion as well. We report on three patients with cochleovestibular symptoms as the first manifestations of Ramsay Hunt syndrome. A 64-year old woman and a 72-year old man presented with vertigo and an auricular herpetiform eruption. Only the woman developed later on a mild facial paralysis. A 58-year old man presented with an acute cochleovestibular syndrome, serologically proven to be a varicella zoster viral reactivation, which was followed three weeks later by the typical cutaneous recrudescence. We believe that these cases result from reactivation of latent varicella zoster virus in the spiral and/or vestibular ganglion. As the varicella zoster virus is dormant in the non-neuronal satellite cells, the facial symptoms in our patients as well as the high incidence of cochleovestibular symptoms in classical Ramsay Hunt syndrome can be explained by viral transmission across the nerves inside the internal auditory canal. Therefore, we think there are grounds to recommend a prompt treatment with an antiviral and a corticosteroid agent, not only in case of an acute facial paralysis but also when confronted with an acute cochleovestibular syndrome.

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