What is it?

The TORCH panel is a panel of tests designed to detect a range of infections in adults as well as in young children. TORCH stands for Toxoplasmosis, Rubella, Cytomegalovirus and Herpes Simplex. These four infections are very common and can all have a serious effect on health.  They can be particularly serious in young children. These infections can be passed on to the baby during pregnancy and early identification and treatment is crucially important for newborns. It is recommended that all women considering having children have a TORCH panel of tests.

Did you know? …

Toxoplasmosis, Rubella, Cytomegalovirus and Herpes Simplex are all spread in different ways, but they all present very real dangers to pregnant women and their unborn children.

How can I get it?

Toxoplasmosis is caused by infection with a parasite called Toxoplasma Gondii. You can catch this infection if you get the parasite in your mouth. This can happen if you handle or eat raw, cured or undercooked infected meat in particular lamb or pork. You can also catch it if you eat unwashed fruit or vegetables or if you drink water that has been contaminated by the faeces of infected cats.

Rubella, also known as German Measles or “three-day Measles” is caused by infection with the Rubella virus. This virus is very common and is spread from person to person through the air. It is usually spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes . The virus will reproduce in the nose, throat and lymph nodes in the person who catches it.

Cytomegalovirus (CMV) is a common virus that can be easily passed from person to person through body fluids including semen, saliva, blood, urine and breast milk. Of greater concern is that CMV can be passed from mother to baby in the womb leading to a condition in the child called Congenital CMV. This serious condition requires immediate attention.

Herpes Simplex is another common virus and is widespread amongst sexually active people. This virus can be passed between people by touching, kissing and sexual intercourse. There are two types of the Herpes Simplex virus, Type 1 is commonly associated with sores and blisters around the mouth and lips whilst Type 2 is commonly associated with blisters and sores in the genital areas. 

How do I know if I have any of these infections?

The only way to know if you have any of these infections is to get tested. Whilst all of these infections can have symptoms, the absence of symptoms is not a reliable indicator that you are clear of infection. 

TORCH testing

The TORCH panel test is quick and easy and involves taking a small sample of your blood. Within just two days, you will know if there is anything to be concerned about. Having the TORCH panel of tests is particularly important if you are planning to start a family, if you think you might have been exposed to any of these infections or if you have been feeling unwell and are uncertain of the cause. 

Treatment

A toxoplasmosis infection can be treated in both adults as well as in young children, but whilst the treatment will eventually get rid of the infection, it will not cure any damage that may have already been caused. If you suspect a Toxoplasmosis infection you need to be tested quickly so that treatment can be started and damage to your body minimised. 

There is no treatment for a Rubella infection, but there are medications which can reduce the severity of symptoms and which can also help to reduce the severe damage that this infection can cause. In very young people, a Rubella infection can lead to problems with their heart, brain, eyes and hearing. For this reason it is very important that any woman planning to have a child or who is already pregnant should be tested.

There's no cure for a Cytomegalovirus infection but drugs can help treat newborns and people with weak immune systems. Again, the most important thing is to find out quickly if you carry this infection. For most people their body will manage the virus effectively, but for the young or those suffering from a compromised immune system, effective monitoring and treatment will be important.

As for many other viral infections there is no cure for a Herpes Simplex infection. Herpes can cause blisters, rashes and painful eruptions around the mouth and lips as well as in the genitals. It can easily be passed from mother to baby during childbirth which can cause severe problems for the infant. Even though there is no cure there are medicines which can help to reduce the symptoms and knowing if you have this virus will help you to make sure you do not pass it on to your children or loved ones.    

Other consequences of infection

A toxoplasmosis infection can cause miscarriage or stillbirth, or the infection can pass to the baby and cause a condition called Congenital Toxoplasmosis. This condition can cause brain damage, epilepsy, hearing loss, eye damage and learning disabilities in the baby.

In adults, a toxoplasmosis infection can cause vision problems including blurred vision, floaters or a loss of vision. If the person suffers from a weak immune system, the infection can spread to other organs and lead to headaches, confusion, poor co-ordination, seizures, high temperatures, all symptoms of cerebral toxoplasmosis. This condition can be life threatening.

Research published in 2014 in 'PLOS: Neglected Tropical Diseases' found that Toxoplasmosis is a common infection across India with a prevalence rate of about 22%. There is a wide variation in the incidence of infection across different geographical regions but it is estimated that around 200,000 children are born each year in India suffering from Congenital Toxoplasmosis.

Rubella can also cause Congenital Rubella Syndrome. This follows the infection passing from mother to child in the womb and can lead to problems with the heart, brain, vision and hearing of the child. It can also cause low birth weight, anaemia and hepatitis. The highest risk period is during the first trimester but infection later in pregnancy can also cause serious complications.

Cytomegalovirus infection is another very serious condition and babies born with this condition tend to be very sick. Symptoms can include yellow skin and eyes, purple blotches or rashes or both, low birth weight, enlarged spleen, enlarged and damaged liver, pneumonia and seizures. It is crucially important that any woman considering having children be tested for CMV.   

Herpes Simplex infection can also cause severe complications for newborn children including Herpes in the brain, liver, lungs and kidneys. In children, where the infection has become spread throughout their bodies, symptoms including breathing difficulties, bleeding, seizures, and a bluish appearance have been described.