TORCH

TORCH is an acronym for a group of infectious diseases that can cause illness in pregnant women. They may cause birth defects in their newborns. The test is a screen for the presence of any of the antibodies to these infections. Confirmation of an active infection may require more specific tests. This test is done as a screen or if you become ill while pregnant or if a baby is born with congenital abnormalities that may be caused by an infection with one of the diseases included in the panel.

THE FOLLOWING TESTS MAKE UP THE TORCH PANEL:

  • Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection that can be passed from mother to baby through the placenta during pregnancy. An infection with Toxoplasma gondii can cause eye and central nervous system infections as well as brain and muscle cysts. If it appears during the pregnancy, it may result in a miscarriage or cause birth defects. This depends on the time during the pregnancy in which the infection was acquired by the mother. Toxoplasmosis is acquired by ingesting the parasite when handling the droppings of infected cats, drinking unpasturized goat's milk, and, most commonly, by eating contaminated meat.

  • Other infections, such as syphilis, hepatitis B, enterovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, varicella-zoster virus, and human parvovirus may be tested for.

  • Rubella is the virus that causes German measles. If contracted early in the pregnancy, the infant may develop heart disease, retarded growth, hearing loss, blood disorders, vision problems, or pneumonia. Problems that may develop during childhood include central nervous system disease, immune disorders, or thyroid disease.

  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is another viral infection that the mother may have acquired. More than half of all American adults have been infected with CMV at some point in their life and, in most cases, it does not cause severe illness. It may pass to the fetus during the birth process but can also infect newborns through breast milk. Infected infants may have severe problems, such as hearing loss, mental retardation, pneumonia, hepatitis, or blood disorders.

  • Herpes simplex virus (HSV) is a common viral infection. The two most common infections with HSV are "cold sores" affecting the lips and genital herpes. Both of these infections can recur. HSV is most commonly acquired through oral or genital contact. Newborns who contract the virus usually do so during travel through the birth canal of a woman who has a genital infection with HSV. The virus may spread throughout the newborn's body, attacking vital organs. Treatment with specific antiviral medication should begin as soon as possible in the infected newborn. Even if treated, surviving babies may have permanent damage to the central nervous system.

Use of the TORCH panel to diagnose these infections is becoming less common since more specific and sensitive tests to detect infection are available. Relying on the presence of antibodies may delay the diagnosis since it takes days to weeks for the antibodies to be produced. Detection of the antigen or growing the microorganism in culture can be done earlier in the infectious process and are more specific.

PREPARATION FOR TEST

A blood sample is obtained by inserting a needle into a vein in the arm.

NORMAL FINDINGS

A negative test is normal.

Ranges for normal findings may vary among different laboratories and hospitals. You should always check with your doctor after having lab work or other tests done to discuss the meaning of your test results and whether your values are considered within normal limits.

OBTAINING THE TEST RESULTS

It is your responsibility to obtain your test results. Ask the lab or department performing the test when and how you will get your results.