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NDP MP Olivia Chow (Trinity-Spadina) speaks during a press conference at her constituency office in Toronto on Jan. 04, 2013.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Weeks before she might have to decide whether to run for mayor of Toronto, federal member of Parliament Olivia Chow has been struck with a viral infection that has left part of her face paralyzed.

But the downtown MP insisted on Friday the condition will not affect her political work. At a news conference to discuss her medical treatment, she even fired a broadside at the federal government, demanding it spend more money on city transit and road repairs.

Ms. Chow said she awoke one morning during the holidays to find discomfort on the left side of her face. She was diagnosed with Ramsay Hunt syndrome Type 2 and treated with medication that knocked the virus out within a week.

The left side of her mouth remains slightly limp and she has difficulty putting a contact lens in her left eye. It could take months for her nerves to regenerate and the paralysis to clear up. Otherwise, she said, she is perfectly healthy and in no pain. Throughout her news conference, Ms. Chow seemed upbeat – "a new year, a new look," she joked.

With Mayor Rob Ford embroiled in a court case that could see him booted from office in the coming weeks and a by-election called, Ms. Chow has been touted as a contender. A popular NDP politician who spent 14 years on Toronto City Council, Ms. Chow would not say Friday whether she would make a mayoral bid, but left the door open.

"I am seriously listening to people. And when the time comes, if there's a decision, then I'll consider what role I might play," she said when asked about her intentions, before segueing into a brief speech calling for federal infrastructure funds to repair the city's Gardiner Expressway.

"The federal government should give some of the money back to the city of Toronto after all the taxes they take from the city," she said. "We need the funds to fix the Gardiner. And the city of Toronto should not do this alone."

Through a spokesman, Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered Ms. Chow "his best wishes ... as she gets treatment for Ramsay Hunt syndrome."

If precedent is anything to go on, it is unlikely Ms. Chow's condition will affect her political life much. Former prime minister Jean Chrétien suffered permanent paralysis on the left side of his face after a case of Bell's palsy, but enjoyed a lengthy political career, including three electoral victories as Liberal leader.


The virus – Ramsay Hunt syndrome Type 2 is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, the same infection that leads to chickenpox and shingles. When a person recovers from chickenpox, the virus goes dormant inside the body. The syndrome develops if the virus is reactivated and spreads to nerves in the face.

The symptoms – In addition to paralyzing the face, the virus can cause a rash on the head, ear pain, hearing loss, vertigo and dry eyes.

The treatment – The condition can be treated with antiviral drugs and steroids such as prednisone; generally, the patient's prognosis is best if the infection is caught early. Both hearing loss and facial paralysis can be permanent in some cases.

Ms. Chow said she is not suffering hearing trouble and is optimistic her nerves will repair themselves.

Source: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes