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Olivia Chow grapples with facial condition

TORONTO - Toronto NDP MP Olivia Chow says she's been diagnosed with a condition that could temporarily prevent her from making certain facial expressions.

Jack Layton's widow says she saw her doctor over the holidays after waking up with some discomfort on the left side of her face.

Chow says she was told she has Ramsay Hunt syndrome, which occurs when the shingles virus affects the facial nerve near the ear.

As a result, Chow says she is having trouble smiling, laughing and putting in her contact lens on that side.

But she stresses the condition in no way affects her work as a member of Parliament, adding people will "just have to imagine that I am smiling."

Shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus, which remains dormant in the body and can become active again. In addition to a painful rash, it can lead to long-term nerve pain.

In the case of Ramsay Hunt syndrome, it can also cause permanent facial muscle weakness and deafness.

"I am learning to be patient as it will take time for my left facial nerves to fully recover. It could take weeks, months or longer," Chow said in a statement Friday morning.

"Overcoming challenges and adversity is something I have always done. This is no different. While I may have some difficulty smiling for a while, I will continue to work hard and have fun."

She is holding a news conference about the diagnosis later in the day at her constituency office in Toronto.

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