TORCH is an acronym for a special group of infections. These may be acquired by a woman during pregnancy. "TORCH" stands for the following infections:
toxoplasma infection, also called toxoplasmosis
other infections, such as hepatitis B, syphilis, and herpes zoster, the virus that causes chickenpox
rubella, the virus that causes German measles
cytomegalovirus, or CMV
herpes simplex virus, the cause of genital herpes
What is going on in the body?
All of the TORCH infections can affect people of any age or sex. However, the term TORCH is only used when it applies to pregnant women and their unborn or newborn children. As a group, the TORCH infections represent a common cause of birth defects. They can also cause stillbirth, the delivery of a dead baby.
The infection usually causes few, if any, symptoms in the pregnant woman. On the other hand, babies risk serious birth defects if they catch one of these infections during pregnancy or delivery. Babies are usually most severely affected when the mother gets the infection in the first trimester, or first three months of pregnancy. This is the time of pregnancy when the baby's organs are first starting to form.
What are the causes and risks of the infection?
Only a minority of pregnant women who catch a TORCH infection give birth to a child with birth defects. Each of the TORCH infections has its own causes:
Toxoplasmosis may be caused by exposure to raw meat or cats, which sometimes carry the disease.
In the US, rubella is mostly a risk to women who have not been vaccinated or whose immunity to rubella has weakened.
Cytomegalovirus, or CMV, is easily spread from person to person, either through the saliva, blood transfusions, or sex.
Herpes simplex is a sexually transmitted disease.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease.
Varicella-zoster infection is only a problem if the mother gets chickenpox. Women who had chickenpox as children are not at risk. Chickenpox is highly contagious. Coughing, sneezing, or contact with the chickenpox rash usually spreads this disease.
Hepatitis B is usually spread through sex or by sharing needles.
In general, for the baby to be affected, the woman must get one of these infections for the first time during the pregnancy. The exception is herpes, which the baby can acquire as he or she goes through the birth canal. With TORCH infections, the severity of the mother's illness often has little to do with how severely the baby is affected.