TORCH infection can be a misleading term as it sounds like a single illness. However, the term is an acronym of five infections caused due to pathogens. These can cause some serious problems for the unborn foetus and the mother if it is not diagnosed at the right moment. These pathogens are transferred from the expectant mother to her foetus during pregnancy or at childbirth. TORCH consists of the following five infections:
This is often caused by parasites that can travel from your mouth to the baby through the placenta. Raw and undercooked meat and food can cause this infection.
2. Other Infections
Other infections like HIV, Hepatitis B, Chicken Pox, Syphilis and Chlamydia: Syphilis is caused by bacteria and can prevent a baby’s normal development. Such babies can have nerve-related issues which could cause deafness or blindness.
This infection is known as German measles and is contagious. Body rash, sore throat and mild fever are some symptoms of rubella.
CMV can pass on to your unborn child and is an infection from the herpes virus group. Congenital CMV causes jaundice, hearing loss, lung issues and muscle weakness.
5. Herpes Simplex Virus 2
This is a form of genital herpes and is identified by open sores or blisters around the anus or the genitals.
Depending upon the foetus’ development stage at the time of exposure, the effects of the pathogens will vary. The above-mentioned diseases are capable of causing developmental issues since they are transmitted to the foetus through the placenta.
Your baby can contract a TORCH infection through you if you are infected by it during pregnancy as it passes through the bloodstream. Since the baby’s immune system isn’t completely developed, it is vulnerable to illness and is unable to fight the infection yet.
1. At Childbirth
While the baby is being delivered or even after a few minutes of being born, the torch infections acquired during pregnancy can infect it via blood or body fluids. Fortunately, it is possible to control its spread through modern medical treatment.
2. Through the Placenta
The baby is yet to develop a powerful immune system of its own and hence is dependent upon you to fight infection. The placenta provides a passage for the pathogens to fight and the baby is unable to resist. Though the mother is rarely at risk here, the TORCH infection can lead to a spontaneous abortion.
Signs and Symptoms of TORCH Infections when Pregnant
While each of the different diseases that form TORCH infections have their individual symptoms, the general signs of this infection are as follows:
- Fever and loss of appetite
- Enlargement of the spleen and liver
- Flu in a mild form, may not be noticeable during pregnancy but can have drastic effect on the baby
- Petechial rash (tiny purple or red spots on the skin). This is caused due to bleeding of the subcutaneous capillaries
Effects of Torch on Pregnancy
The following are the effects of TORCH infection:
- Birth defects like bad eyesight, loss of hearing, diabetes at a young age, heart defects, cataract and mental retardation are noticed in babies where their mothers were detected with rubella in the first trimester.
- A direct result of TORCH infection during pregnancy is a miscarriage.
- If the mother is infected with TORCH during 11 to 20 weeks of pregnancy, there is a huge risk of congenital rubella syndrome affecting the baby.
- The baby may also get meningitis, anaemia and pneumonia.
- The infection leads to many severe complications like premature delivery, stillbirth, spontaneous abortions, congenital anomalies and intrauterine foetal death.
During your prenatal visits to the doctor, if you are suspected of infections, you may get screened for TORCH infections. It is important to diagnose this infection at the earliest possible stage and continue monitoring of the baby’s growth post-diagnosis. Even if the maternal treatment is carried out, the foetal health is not benefited in any way. A blood test is done to check the pregnant woman for Toxoplasmosis, syphilis, parvovirus, varicella zoster, rubella, cytomegalovirus and herpes. Monitoring of foetal growth after a positive result is an important part of this diagnosis.
Precautions to Prevent Torch Infection
In order to prevent contracting TORCH viruses in pregnancy, you can take the following precautions:
- Stay away from raw meat. Cook your meat till it is no longer pink.
- Make sure you wash your hands meticulously after handling raw meat
- Maintain cleanliness and hygiene around you at all times.
- If you are fond of cats and dogs, do not handle strays as this could cause toxoplasmosis. If you have pets of your own, keep them indoors and prevent them from wandering.
- Wash your hands with soap after you come home, especially before you eat.
- Do not share personal items like razors, toothbrushes etc. with others, especially those items that can have blood on them.
- Avoid getting tattoos on your body or piercings to keep torch diseases
- Chocolate, peanuts, peanut butter, fever and stress act as triggers for genital herpes. Avoid them if you have a history of it in the past.