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Being pregnant is one of the most challenging yet heartwarming times of a woman’s life. The happiness of carrying new life within you is overwhelming, yet there is fear of illness or infection that may harm you and the baby. An example of this is TORCH infections, which can infect a pregnant woman and reach the growing foetus. Let’s take an in-depth look into this.
What Is TORCH Infection?
TORCH infection can be a misleading term, as it sounds like a single illness. However, the term TORCH is an acronym of five infections caused by different pathogens. These infections can pose serious problems to the unborn foetus and the mother if 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 infection is caused by the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, which can travel from your mouth to the baby through the placenta. Raw and under-cooked meat and food can cause this infection.
2. Other Infections
Other infections are HIV, Hepatitis B, chicken pox, syphilis and chlamydia. Syphilis is caused by bacteria, and can prevent normal development of the baby. Such babies can have nerve-related issues, which can cause deafness or blindness.
This infection is known as German measles and is contagious. A body rash, sore throat, and mild fever are some symptoms of rubella.
4. Cytomegalovirus (CMV)
CMV can be passed 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 development stage of the foetus 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.
What Causes TORCH Infection in Pregnancy?
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.
TORCH infection is transferred from the mother to the baby through the following ways:
1. At Childbirth
While the baby is being delivered, or even after a few minutes of being born, a TORCH infection acquired during pregnancy can infect the baby via blood or body fluids. Fortunately, it is possible to control its spread through modern medical treatment.
2. Through the Placenta
Inside the womb, the baby is yet to develop a powerful immune system of its own, and hence is dependent upon you to fight any infection. The placenta provides a passage for the pathogens, and the baby’s immune system cannot fight them. Though the mother is rarely at risk here, a 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 are as follows:
- Fever and loss of appetite
- Enlargement of the spleen and liver
- Mild flu – may not be noticeable during pregnancy, but can have drastic effect on the baby
- Petechiae (tiny purple or red spots on the skin). This is caused due to bleeding of the subcutaneous capillaries.
Effects of TORCH Infections on Pregnancy
- Birth defects like bad eyesight, loss of hearing, diabetes at a young age, heart defects, cataracts, and developmental disorders are noticed in babies whose 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 big 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.
Diagnosis of TORCH Infections During Pregnancy
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 to monitor 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.
Treatment for Pregnancy TORCH Infections
The treatment and management of TORCH infections consist of different components as per the diagnosis made, and they include the following:
For early stages of infection, you can be treated with pyrimethamine and sulfadiazine to ensure the pathogens do not impact your baby.
2. Hepatitis B
Newborn babies and their mothers who are exposed to Hepatitis B are administered with vaccines and given HBIG.
3. Herpes Simplex Virus
If the doctor notices active lesions, he may suggest that you have a Cesarean delivery. The infection period can be shortened through antiviral drugs, which also help in relieving its symptoms.
While different symptoms of neonates are treated separately, patients infected with rubella are prescribed mild analgesics and plenty of rest.
When a pregnant woman is infected with CMV, treatment for individual symptoms like hepatomegaly, fatigue, and fever is carried out.
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 items that can have blood on them.
- Avoid getting tattoos or piercings.
- Chocolate, peanuts, peanut butter, fever, and stress act as triggers for genital herpes. Avoid them if you have a history of herpes.
Although pregnancy is a beautiful time in a woman’s life, it can give you more than a few sleepless nights. The key is not to panic. If you know what this infection is all about, as well as its treatment and the methods to keep it away, you can surely win the battle. Do not miss your doctor’s appointments and check-ups, and you and your baby will be fine!
Also Read: Cholestasis of Pregnancy