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What Is an Infectious Disease Doctor?

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on November 24, 2020

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:

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:

Diagnosis Difficulties 

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.

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Malaria.”

Consumer Reports: “The Doctor to See If You Get an Antibiotic-Resistant Infection.”

Infectious Disease Society of America: “What is an ID Specialist.”

Mayo Clinic: “Infectious Diseases.”

National Health Services: “Infectious Diseases.”

National Institutes of Health: “Your Microbes and You.”

Nature Public Health Emergency Collection: “Fever in Common Infectious Diseases.”

State of Rhode Island Department of Health: “Infectious Diseases – A to Z List.”

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: “Vaccines for Travelers.”

University of Oslo: “Chronic infectious diseases.”

University of Utah: “Common Infectious Diseases.”

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