What Is An Infectious Disease Doctor And What Does This Medical Specialist Do?

With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, infectious disease doctors, also known as ID specialists, are in the health care spotlight more than ever. However, most people are not aware of what an infectious disease specialist or their job entails. An Infectious disease doctor is a board-certified MD or DO physician that treats acute and chronic infections caused by bacteria, parasites, fungi, and viruses, including COVID-19. More specifically, these fellowship-trained health care providers treat:

  • Acute infections of unknown etiologies
  • Chronic infections that require constant maintenance care, such as hepatitis C and HIV
  • Contagious viral infections such as COVID-19
  • Infections that involve the blood, bone, or an implanted prosthesis
  • Uncommon tick-borne, mosquito-borne or parasitic infections
  • Prevention of health conditions that may occur when traveling to a tropical location
  • Infections that are resistant to common antibiotics
  • Acute infections caused by multiple different organisms

What Does An Infectious Disease Doctor Treat? 

Infectious disease specialists treat a wide variety of acute and chronic medical infections and diseases. ID doctors commonly treat polymicrobial infections (infections involving more than one organism). Common bacterial infections may be caused by Staph aureus, Escherichia coli, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Bacterial infections can affect the bone (osteomyelitis), heart valves (endocarditis), blood (bacteremia), or prosthetic surgery implants. Viral or fungal organisms may cause other conditions. Fungal infections can either be acute or chronic such as blastomycosis and aspergillosis. In clinics, ID specialists primarily treat chronic diseases such as HIV and hepatitis. Still, they may also follow up with previously hospitalized patients and see patients with lingering conditions or sub-acute infections.

How To Become An ID Doctor – Education And Training 

The path to becoming an Infectious disease doctor is long, arduous, and requires a lot of work. The first step is getting accepted to medical school. This involves completion of pre-requisite courses, volunteering, shadowing, research, and much more. Upon completing medical school and receiving a medical degree, a three-year training residency in internal medicine is needed. A two-year training fellowship in infectious diseases is completed following internal medicine residency and passing internal medicine board examinations. The final step to becoming an ID physician is passing the infectious disease board exam, after which they can finally practice as ID specialists.

  

How Do ID Specialists Work With Other Physicians? 

An Infectious disease specialist will work hand in hand with many other types of the health clinic and hospital physicians. In the hospital, they work on a consulting basis. Hospitalists serve as the primary health care practitioners that take care of hospitalized patients. However, when a patient’s case is particularly complex, hospitalist physicians will consult with ID specialists. The hospitalist physician will still be the primary physician on the patient’s care team. However, ID specialists will also be able to help manage the patient’s care. Usually, ID specialists will focus on the infectious etiology by adjusting antibiotic and antifungal medications while leaving other medical issues and symptoms to the hospitalist.

ID physicians usually treat patients referred to them in the clinics or are follow-up appointments of previously hospitalized patients. For example, a family medicine physician or GP (general practice) may notice a patient’s elevated liver enzymes on routine screening. This warrants further workup and screening for hepatitis by the primary care physician or GP. If a patient has a positive hepatitis test indicative of infection, they are referred to ID specialists. The ID physician will see the patient in the clinic and order a further workup to determine the degree of liver damage, hepatitis viral load, and hepatitis viral strain. Following complete workup, the patient can begin treatment of their hepatitis. With new advancements in the treatment of hepatitis, the virus is usually completely irradicated within two months of clinic treatment.

Infectious Disease Subspecialties

Following completion of a two-year Infectious disease fellowship, there are several subspecialty areas of focus that an ID specialist can train in:

  • HIV/AIDS
  • Tropical Medicine
  • Hepatitis
  • Malaria
  • Public Health
  • Pediatric Infectious Disease
  • Tuberculosis
  • Transplant Infectious Disease

The Infectious Disease Specialist And COVID 19 Care

With specialized training in treating infections caused by fungi, bacteria, and viruses, infectious disease specialists are at the forefront of clinically treating COVID 19 infected patients. Additional training completed by ID specialists in epidemiology makes them experts in the spread of the disease. In many hospitals nationwide, ID doctors are serving as heads of COVID 19 response teams. Nationally, ID doctors are working together to determine best practices and prescribing protocols for newly approved COVID 19 treatments such as remdesmavir, basiliximab, and imdevimab. As COVID 19 lingers on, ID specialists will continue to provide medical care to these Coronavirus-infected patients while conducting clinical research on best-supporting health and medical departments nationwide.

What Are Some Resources Where Can I Find Out More About The Infectious Disease Specialist?

Many excellent medical organizations can provide more information and health care resources about ID specialists, including:

  • The American College of Physicians, also known as The ACP, is an organization that focuses on the internal medicine specialty and all of the subspecialties of internal medicine. ACP also publishes clinical health care research. Find information and resources on the infectious disease specialty on the ACP website.
  • Mayo Clinic has locations across the US and is known for its renowned medical health care. The ID Specialists at Mayo medical center conduct ongoing clinical research in many different health care facets. Mayo ID also houses several clinical trials. More information about ID at Mayo medical center may be found here: Mayo Clinic Webpage.
  • The American Medical Association (AMA) is the largest association of physicians and medical students. AMA works to promote the advancement of the medical field as a whole, particularly in the legislature. More information about ID specialists published by the AMA may be found on the AMA Website
  • The Infectious Disease Society of America (IDSA) is the go-to organization for resources and information about the ID specialty. IDSA publishes guidelines for the clinical treatment of many different diseases and infections. Additionally, IDSA is at the forefront of conducting clinical medical research. A link to the IDSA site may be found on the IDSA Website.

What Is The Study And Research Of Infectious Diseases Called?

Although the term is not commonly used, Infectiology is the term used to describe this health care specialty, and its definition includes the study and clinical treatment of infectious diseases. A medical educator that teaches infectious disease medicine can be referred to as an Infectiologist.

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