Your body is home to a microbiome full of bacteria, pathogens, fungi, and viruses. Typically, they don’t cause any harm. But sometimes, microorganisms can cause disease.
You can also contract infection-causing pathogens or parasites from other people, animals, insects, or contaminated food.
Because symptoms and severity often vary, infectious diseases can be challenging to diagnose and treat. Infectious disease doctors are experts that specialize in identifying and treating a wide range of these conditions.
What Does an Infectious Disease Doctor Do?
There are dozens of infectious diseases, from the flu and pneumonia to the common cold.
Infectious disease doctors are trained in clinical and laboratory skills to make the right diagnoses and organize the best treatment plans. They continue to train in the field, which helps them to understand diseases better — due to factors like:
- An increase in the severity of infections
- Higher rates of antibiotic resistance
- The rise of new infections, like MRSA or Norovirus
- The popularity of international travel
Infectious disease doctors test your blood or other body fluids to look for specific antibodies — cells produced by our immune system to fight harmful foreign substances. These tests can indicate what kind of infection is present.
For bacterial infections, treatment usually involves antibiotics. These can be administered orally or directly into your veins through an IV.
Other diseases may require antivirals, antifungals, or an anti-parasitic to treat the infection. Infectious disease doctors may also recommend vaccination.
Education and Training
Infectious disease doctors typically have around 10 years of specialized training. They begin with medical school, before focusing on general internal medicine or training in specialized fields like microbiology or tropical diseases.
In general, this process includes:
- Four years of medical school
- Three years of training as a doctor of internal medicine
- Two to three years of specialty training
- Board certification, usually by the American Board of Internal Medicine
Reasons to See an Infectious Disease Doctor
Your primary care physician may refer you to an infectious disease specialist due to:
Many infectious diseases have similar symptoms. Infectious disease doctors are trained to perform and read tests that can identify the cause of an illness more precisely.
Specialized Treatment and Recovery
Infectious disease doctors have the expertise to treat people with an antibiotic-resistant infection — an increasingly common issue that can complicate recovery.
High or Unexplained Fever
A high fever can predict a serious infection. A high and ongoing fever could also indicate an infection related to a weakened immune system that needs special treatment.
Chronic Infectious Diseases
Infectious disease specialists provide long-term care to people with diseases that are lifelong or last for more than one year. Chronic infectious diseases can be deadly or limit daily life without ongoing care.
The most common chronic infectious diseases include:
What to Expect at the Infectious Disease Doctor
First, an infectious disease doctor will review your medical data and perform a physical exam. Based on this initial review, they will order tests, which could include:
They may consult with other specialists, such as a dermatologist for skin infections or a pulmonologist for lung problems. Follow-up appointments may also be scheduled if necessary.
On your first visit, bring all your medical records: X-rays, laboratory reports, and immunization records. Bring a list of any allergies you have and medications you take — including birth control pills, as these can interfere with antibiotics.