What is an infectious disease specialist?

While many infections can be treated by your primary care physician, there are times when you might need to see an infectious disease specialist. The prospect brings up some important questions. What does this type of specialist do? When might you need to see one? How are they trained? What do you need to know if you’ve been referred to one?

When might I need to see one?

According to the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), the major professional society of infectious disease specialists, your primary care doctor might refer you to an infectious disease specialist if you have any of the following:

  • An infection that is hard to diagnose or doesn’t respond to typical treatment
  • Plans to travel to a foreign country that has a high infection risk
  • A chronic infectious disease such as HIV/AIDS

How is an infectious disease specialist trained?

The American College of Physicians explains that training in infectious disease as a specialty requires an additional two years after completion of a basic, three-year residency in internal medicine. To become board-certified, infectious disease specialists must complete a fellowship in infectious diseases through the American Board of Internal Medicine.stethoscope symbolizing visiting an infectious disease specialst

The IDSA explains that infectious disease specialists have four years of medical school, three years of training in internal medicine, and two to three years of specialized training in infectious diseases. They also emphasize that board certification requires passing a “difficult certification examination” in both internal medicine and infectious diseases.

What does an infectious disease specialist do?

The IDSA says that infectious disease specialists review medical history, tests, lab reports and other data. They may perform a physical examination and order additional laboratory tests like blood work, cultures from wounds or samples of body fluids.

They may also prescribe treatments such as medication — usually antibiotics — to help combat your infection. Antibiotics may be given orally, like a pill or liquid medicine, or via IV directly into the veins. Many infectious disease specialists can administer IV antibiotics in the office. Vaccinations may be part of your care as well, particularly if you’re seeing an infectious disease specialist in advance of travel to a foreign country.

Infectious disease specialists work in collaboration with your primary care physician to develop a treatment plan that will best help you.

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