Bacterial and Viral Infection In Pregnancy – Health Effects of TORCH Syndrome On The Baby
While being pregnant can be one of the happiest moments of life, it’s no less than a challenge. The possibility of contracting infection always lurks around the mother and the baby. We will be discussing below a cluster of infections which if not addressed properly, can bring a range of complications.
TORCH syndrome can be a misleading terminology as it sounds like a single disease. But it’s actually an acronym or an umbrella term used to denote a cluster of 5 infections caused by pathogens. These infections can create severe problems for the developing baby as well as for the mother, if not diagnosed on time.
TORCH syndrome consists of following five infections:
This is a rare disease which is caused by a parasite T. gondii. The organism typically enters into the mother’s body through the mouth and then to the fetus through the placenta. Eating raw eggs and undercooked meat can cause this infection. The parasite is also found in cat feces and cat litters.
Health effects – The symptoms usually don’t show up for several years. However, it can cause following complications in the baby:
- Brain damage
- Delays in development
- Blindness due to inflammation in part of the eye
- Too much fluid buildup in the brain (hydrocephalus)
The group of agents falling in ‘other infections’ include HIV, varicella zoster, syphilis, Epstein-Barr virus, hepatitis B, measles, and mumps. All these can spread from mother to the baby during pregnancy or during delivery.
Health effects – A baby exposed to these infections might experience:
- Delayed growth
- Swollen nymph nodes and abdomen
- Chicken pox
- Intrauterine fetal death
Caused by German measles, rubella is a contagious viral infection which causes sore throat and rashes.
Health effects – If rubella hits the pregnant woman, it can be very serious, especially if it affects in the first trimester. Rubella can cause:
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CMV or cytomegalovirus comes from the herpes virus family. The infection can pass on to the unborn fetus causing several problems.
Health effects – It is one of the most common viral infections passed on to the baby. Congenital CMV can cause:
- Hearing and vision loss
- Small birth size
- Muscle weakness
- Lung problems
- Mental disabilities
Herpes simplex virus
The virus is typically spread to the fetus in the birth canal during the delivery. It’s also possible that the infection is transmitted while the baby is still in the womb, though it’s rare. Like the CMV, herpes is a life-long infection but it can remain dormant for a long period of time.
Health effects - Pregnant women need to be more cautious as women shed more particles of the pathogens at the first outbreak. Also, the immune system is armed with fewer amounts of antibodies to fight the virus in future outbreaks.
The virus can create several complications in the baby including:
- Brain damage
- Breathing problems
- Open sores or blisters around the genitals
The effects of the viruses will depend on the stage of development at the time of exposure. The diseases are typically transmitted to the baby through the placenta.
How pregnant women get TORCH infection?
Since the developing baby isn’t fully equipped to fight the infection, the exposure to the diseases is high. There are two mode of transmission of the TORCH infection including:
- Through the placenta – The placenta is a gateway of transmitting blood, oxygen and other essential nutrients. And at the same time, it also provides a passage for the pathogens to enter the baby’s body through the bloodstream.
- During childbirth – The infection acquired during the pregnancy can directly impact the baby during the time of delivery or minutes after the baby is born. This is transmitted either through blood or via bodily fluids.
How can a pregnant woman know of TORCH infection? Are there any signs?
Each of the diseases has its own individual signs and symptoms. However, common signs may include:
- Fever and loss of appetite
- Flu which seem to be mild but can be dangerous to baby’s health
- Enlargement of spleen and liver
- Small red or purple spots on the skin due to rashes
You must consult a doctor even if it is mild flu or fever. You may not know what’s going on inside.
Screening of TORCH Syndrome
The infection can be diagnosed during the routine prenatal examination. It is vital to get screened for this cluster of infections as early as possible and monitor your baby’s growth after diagnosis. The doctor can conduct the following examination:
A sample blood is acquired, typically from the finger using a lancet (cutting instrument) or a needle. This will check the presence of the pathogens mentioned above.
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How TORCH Syndrome is treated during pregnancy?
The treatment will depend on the type of pathogen or infection, the time of exposure and the overall diagnosis. The doctor can recommend following depending on the cause of infection:
- The treatment of toxoplasmosis is typically given in the early stages, using drugs such as pyrimethamine and sulfadiazine.
- Herpex simplex virus can be treated using anti-viral drugs which also gives relief from your symptoms.
- Women infected with rubella are typically prescribed mild analgesics and will be asked to take rest.
- In case of cytomegalovirus, the doctor can suggest anti-viral medications such as ganciclovir, valganciclovir, and CMV immune globulin
Mothers and their newborns who are exposed to Hepatitis B infection can be managed by administering vaccine named HBIG. Same goes for rubella.
In case the doctor notices active lesions or cuts, c-section delivery can be suggested.
Though you might be vulnerable to infections, you need to understand that pregnancy is not the time of getting panic. There are treatments available to address problems during this phase and ways to keep off the infections. Routine prenatal checkup is the key to counter the majority of complications during pregnancy, so don’t miss a single appointment with your doctor.
Last, but not the least, avoid raw or uncooked meat and stay away from cats and dogs. Do not share personal items such as toothbrushes, razors, etc. with anybody and make sure you practice proper hygiene as much as possible.
1. Torch(2018, June 12). AACC read more
2. TORCH Panel(n.d.). URMC read more
3. Toxoplasmosis(n.d.). Boston children's hospital read more
4. TORCH Symptoms & Causes(n.d.). Boston children's hospital read more
5. TORCH Syndrome(2009). NORD read more