Other names: TORCH Panel

The TORCH panel is used to test for four serious infectious conditions in pregnant women, which could cause birth defects. The test detects the presence of antibodies to the following illnesses:

  • Toxoplasmosis: this is an infection caused by a parasite; it can be passed from mother to baby via the placenta. Toxoplasmosis can cause infections of the nervous system, as well as eye problems and brain and muscle cysts. The parasite is usually ingested by eating contaminated meat. Toxoplasmosis may result in miscarriage or birth defects but the severity of the effects depend on the stage of the pregnancy.
  • Rubella: rubella is a viral infection, which usually produces mild symptoms; however, in pregnant women, rubella can be very serious and can result in the baby developing birth defects and problems with their health later in life. All women who are trying to conceive are encouraged to have a rubella vaccination (if they have not already had one) to make sure they are immune to the infection. Nowadays, rubella is rare because the rubella vaccination is given to all children in the UK.
  • Cytomegalovirus (CMV): this is a viral infection, which can be passed from mother to baby. In most cases, CMV does not cause severe symptoms but if acquired during pregnancy it can have serious implications for the foetus, including loss of hearing, hepatitis, pneumonia and mental retardation.
  • Herpes simplex virus (HSV): this is a very common viral infection, which is usually characterised by cold sores and genital herpes. The virus can be very serious for newborn babies, who may contract the virus as they travel through the mother’s birth canal if the mother has genital herpes.

When is the test used?

The blood tests can be used to detect the presence of antibodies to specific infections; if antibodies are present this will tell doctors whether a patient has been exposed to the infection in the past or if they have an active infection.

The test is usually ordered when an expectant mother has symptoms of one of the four infectious diseases mentioned above; symptoms include a rash for rubella and flu-like symptoms for CMV and toxoplasmosis.

The test may be ordered if a newborn baby shows symptoms which may be associated with these infectious diseases, including jaundice, heart defects, deafness, cataracts, enlarged liver or spleen and a low platelet count.

How is the test done?

The test is done by taking a sample of the patient’s blood; in adult patients, the blood is taken from a vein in the arm. A needle is inserted into the vein and the blood is drawn out using a syringe. Once the sample has been collected, it will be placed in a bottle, labelled with the patient’s name and sent off for testing. In infants, the sample is collected by pricking the heel and collecting the blood; this is less traumatic for the baby.

What do the test results mean?

The test results are usually classified as positive or negative; the presence of antibodies indicates a positive result, while the absence of antibodies indicates a negative result.

If the test results show the presence of IgM antibodies in the newborn baby, this usually indicates that the baby has an active infection; if both IgM and IgG antibodies are present, this may indicate the passive transfer of antibodies from the mother and the baby will not have an active infection.

If the results show that IgM antibodies are present in the mother, this usually indicates an active infection; if the IgG antibodies are present, this usually indicates a past infection.

Specific Blood Tests

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