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Sen. Feinstein developed encephalitis, Ramsay Hunt syndrome as complications from shingles

Ailing Feinstein returns to Senate after monthslong absence
Ailing Feinstein returns to Senate after monthslong absence 00:54

WASHINGTON -- California Sen. Dianne Feinstein suffered serious complications from her recent bout of shingles that delayed her return to the U.S. Senate, her office confirmed to CBS News Bay Area Thursday.

Feinstein's office said the senator had Ramsay Hunt syndrome and encephalitis, both illnesses a complication of the painful shingles rash. Her condition, which kept her away from the Senate for nearly three months, was first reported by the New York Times.

Symptoms of post-shingles encephalitis include headache, fever, sensitivity to light, and other symptoms, along with possible long-lasting memory, language, other cognitive problems. Ramsay Hunt syndrome occurs when shingles affect the facial nerve near the ear, causing paralysis and hearing loss.

ALSO READ: Ramsay Hunt syndrome: The virus that attacked Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Justin Bieber

A spokesperson for Feinstein's office told CBS News Bay Area, '"The senator previously disclosed that she had several complications related to her shingles diagnosis. As discussed in the New York Times article, those complications included Ramsay Hunt syndrome and encephalitis.

"While the encephalitis resolved itself shortly after she was released from the hospital in March, she continues to have complications from Ramsay Hunt syndrome."

A recent interview with Feinstein prompted additional concerns about her condition when it appeared she may have had trouble hearing or understanding the questions.

The 89-year-old senator returned to Capitol Hill in a wheelchair on May 10, looking noticeably thinner and frail, giving majority Democrats a much-needed final vote as they seek to confirm President Joe Biden's nominees and raise the nation's debt ceiling.

Feinstein said at the time she was experiencing some side effects including vision and balance issues and would work a reduced schedule. The day she returned, she missed a vote on that evening and two more votes the next day before returning for the afternoon vote to confirm a Department of Education nominee.

Feinstein's return after 10 weeks away from the Senate gives Democrats a better cushion as they navigate their narrow 51-49 majority. She had asked Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer to temporarily replace her on the Senate Judiciary Committee, where some of Biden's judicial nominations have stalled without her tie-breaking vote. 

However, Republicans blocked that request last month, giving Democrats few options to move those nominees – and important bills, like a potential debt package – unless she returned or resigned.

Feinstein had asked for the replacement after Rep. Ro Khanna (D-San Jose) called on her to resign from the Senate, saying it was "unacceptable" for her to miss votes to confirm judges who could be weighing in on abortion rights, a key Democratic priority.  

The long-serving California senator has had a trailblazing political career and shattered gender barriers. She was the first woman to serve as president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the 1970s and the first female mayor of San Francisco. She ascended to that post after the November 1978 assassinations of then-Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk by a former supervisor, Dan White. Feinstein found Milk's body.

In the Senate, she was the first woman to head the Senate Intelligence Committee and the first woman to serve as the Judiciary Committee's top Democrat.

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