Viral reactivation in temporal ganglia is the suspected cause of Bell's palsy, vestibular neuritis and sudden hearing loss. Since the distribution of latent herpes simplex type 1 (HSV-1) in geniculate, vestibular and spiral ganglia of individual human temporal bones could have implications for the explanation of isolated as well as combined disorders of these three cranial nerves, we examined these ganglia in 18 human temporal bones of adults by nested polymerase chain reaction. In all of the temporal bones HSV-1 specific DNA was detected: 10/18 (56%) of the geniculate, 11/18 (61%) of the vestibular and 9/18 (50%) of the spiral ganglia samples were positive. All combinations of positive and negative ganglia were found in individual temporal bones at roughly equal frequencies. These data support a viral etiology of all three conditions, especially their occasional combinations.