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In Utero TORCH Infections

  • Overview

    TORCH is an acronym for a group of diseases that cause congenital (present at birth) conditions if a fetus is exposed to them in the uterus.

    TORCH stands for:

    Leading the way in fetal care

    Through the joint work of researchers, genetic specialists, surgeons, and other care providers, Boston Children's Hospital's Advanced Fetal Care Center is breaking new ground in the understanding of fetal anomalies, with the goals of early detection and treatment for a growing number of complex health concerns.

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  • In-Depth

    What causes in utero TORCH infections?

    A baby contracts a TORCH infection in the uterus when the mother catches the infectious disease and carries it through her bloodstream to the baby. The developing fetus is especially vulnerable to illness because its immune system is not yet strong enough to permanently fight off infection.

    Since a baby in utero cannot completely get rid of an infection, the disease remains in the body, and can prevent the child's vulnerable organs from developing correctly.

    Will my baby get a TORCH infection if I'm infected?

    A fetus does not automatically contract an in utero TORCH infection if its mother is infected, because the disease must penetrate the protective barrier of the placenta.

    The likelihood of the fetus contracting an in utero TORCH infection depends on several factors:

    • If the mother contracts the disease for the first time while pregnant
    • The severity of the mother's illness
    • The type of infection itself
    • How early in the pregnancy the fetus is exposed to the disease
    • If the mother gets treatment for the disease
    • Extent of the damage to the placenta

    What are the symptoms of in utero TORCH infections?

    In utero TORCH infections usually cause only mild symptoms in an adult, and are easily treated. However, for a developing fetus, the infection may cause severe congenital conditions, chronic illness, and miscarriages.

    Symptoms of TORCH infections vary widely, but some of the typical ones include:

    • premature birth
    • growth problems
    • neurological or brain abnormalities, including:
      • microcephaly - abnormally small head
      • hydrocephalus - build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain's ventricles
      • seizures
      • motor problems - trouble with movements
      • cognitive problems - troubles with learning, memory, language or other kinds of cognitive functions of the brain
    • organ damage, especially to the eyes, ears, liver and heart
    • chronic illness

    The symptoms of in utero TORCH infections may resemble other health conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

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