What is an Infectious Disease Specialist?

Infectious Disease (ID) specialists are like medical detectives. They examine difficult cases, looking for clues to identify the culprit and solve the problem.  ID specialists are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of illnesses caused by microorganisms. Their specialized training and diagnostic tools can help determine the cause of your infection and the best approach to treatment.

How was my ID Specialist trained?

ID Physicians have 9-10 years of specialized education and training.

  • 4 years of medical school
  • 3 years training as a doctor of internal medicine
  • 2-3 years specialized training in infectious diseases

Our ID specialists are board certified. They have passed a difficult certification examination by the American Board of Internal Medicine in both internal medicine and infectious diseases.

When do I need an ID Specialist?

Many common infections can be treated by your personal physician.

Your doctor might refer you to an ID specialist when

  • an infection is difficult to diagnose
  • an infection is accompanied by a high fever
  • a patient does not respond to treatment
  • a healthy person plans to travel to a foreign country or a location where infection risk is higher
  • treating illnesses becomes a part of a patient’s overall care, for example, a patient with HIV/AIDS

In all of these cases, the specialized training and diagnostic tools of the ID specialist can help determine the cause of your infection and the best approach to treatment.

Typical Procedures

ID specialists review your medical data, including X-rays and laboratory reports such as blood work and culture data. They also may perform a physical exam to help determine the cause of the problem.

Tests
ID specialists often order laboratory tests to examine samples of blood or other body fluids or cultures from wounds. A blood serum analysis can help the ID specialist detect antibodies that indicate what type of infection you have. These advanced tests can further explain the results of earlier tests, helping to pinpoint the problem.

Treatments
Treatments consist of medicines—usually antibiotics—to help battle the infection and prevent it from returning. These medicines may be given to you orally (in the form of pills or liquids) or administered directly into your veins, via an IV tube.

IDA-KC offers IV antibiotic therapy to patients in both the office and home setting, which decreases the likelihood that you will need to be hospitalized.

How does an ID Specialist work with other medical professionals?

ID specialists work with your personal physician to determine which diagnostic tests are appropriate. If treatment is necessary, your doctor and the ID specialist will work together to develop a treatment plan best suited to your needs.

Often you will be asked to return to the ID specialist for a follow-up visit. This allows the specialist to check on your progress, confirm that the infection is gone and help prevent it from coming back. If you acquire an infection while in the hospital, the ID specialist will work with other hospital physicians to help direct your care.  The specialist also might provide follow-up care after you go home.

What causes infectious diseases?

Infectious diseases are caused by microscopic organisms that penetrate the body’s natural barriers and multiply to create symptoms that can range from mild to deadly. Although progress has been made to eradicate or control many infectious diseases, humankind remains vulnerable to a wide array of new and resurgent organisms.

What obstacles exist in infection treatment?

  • New, potentially dangerous bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) emerge every year.
  • Previously recognized pathogens can evolve to become resistant to available antibiotics and other treatments.
  • Population crowding and easy travel also make us more vulnerable to the spread of infectious agents.

Recent concerns about bioterrorism have focused new attention on eradicated or rare infectious diseases such as smallpox and anthrax.

What are the various types of infection?

Some infections, such as measles, malaria, HIV and yellow fever, affect the entire body. Other infections affect only one organ or system of the body. The most frequent local infections, including the common cold, occur in the upper respiratory tract. A serious and usually local infection of the respiratory tract is tuberculosis, which is a problem worldwide.

Other common sites of infection include the digestive tract, the lungs, the reproductive and urinary tracts, the eyes or ears. Local infections can cause serious illnesses if they affect vital organs such as the heart, brain or liver. They also can spread through the blood stream to cause widespread symptoms.

The outcome of any infection depends on the virulence of infectious agents, the number of organisms in the infecting inoculum and the response of the immune system. A compromised immune system, which can result from diseases such as AIDS or treatment of diseases such as cancer, may allow organisms that are ordinarily harmless to proliferate and cause life-threatening illness.

What are the ways infections occur?

Common ways in which infectious agents enter the body are through skin contact, inhalation of airborne microbes, ingestion of contaminated food or water, bites from vectors such as ticks or mosquitoes that carry and transmit organisms, sexual contact and transmission from mothers to their unborn children via the birth canal and placenta.

What are the prevention and treatment options for infectious diseases?

Immunization
Modern vaccines are among our most effective strategies to prevent disease. Many devastating diseases can now be prevented through appropriate immunization programs. In the United States, it is recommended that all children be vaccinated against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, polio, measles, rubella (German measles), mumps, Haemophilus influenza type B (a common cause of pneumonia and meningitis in infants), hepatitis B, varicella (chickenpox) and influenza.

Travelers to foreign countries may require vaccinations against yellow fever, cholera, typhoid fever or hepatitis A or B.

Public Health Measures
Measures that assure clean water supplies, adequate sewage treatment, and sanitary handling of food and milk also are important to control the spread of infectious disease.

Surveillance
The fight against infectious diseases requires worldwide surveillance by physicians, scientists and public health officials who gather information on communicable diseases, report new or resurgent outbreaks of disease, and develop standards and guidelines for treating and controlling disease.

Treatment
The development of antibiotics and other antimicrobials has played an important role in the fight against infectious diseases, but some microorganisms develop resistance to the drugs used against them. Modern physicians must prescribe antibiotics carefully, and research and development of new drugs is needed. The more widely antibiotics and antivirals are used, the more likely it is that antimicrobial-resistant strains of microorganisms will emerge.

Helpful Links

Infectious Diseases Society of America
www.idsociety.org

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
www.cdc.gov

Clay County Health Department (Liberty, MO)
www.clayhealth.com

Jackson County (Missouri) Health Department
www.jacohd.org

Johnson County (Kansas) Health Department
www.jocogov.org/health

Kansas City, Missouri Health Department
kcmo.gov/health