Infectious disease specialists are physicians who are trained in internal medicine and specialize in diagnosing, treating, and managing infectious diseases. These specialists have extensive knowledge of how viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi effect the body, especially in the sinus, bone, brain, heart, lung, bowel, pelvic, and urinary tract areas. An infectious disease specialist typically undergoes between nine and ten years worth of intensive training, including learning about immunology and epidemiology.
Most infectious diseases can be diagnosed and treated by a general internist. In cases where diagnoses is difficult, prescribed treatment has failed, or when a fever presents itself alongside an infection, a general internist may refer a patient to an infectious disease specialist. When a patient is referred to this type of specialist, information like medical histories, X-rays, and laboratory reports detailing the results of blood work and wound cultures may be reviewed. A specialist may also decide to perform his own examinations on a patient, from basic physicals to advanced tests like a blood serum analysis that determines what types of antibodies — and, thus, what types of infections — are present in the body.
Usually, infectious disease specialists can treat a patient right in their offices. Many infectious diseases can be combated with oral antibiotics. Specialists may also have access to IV antibiotic therapy that allows antibiotics to be injected directly into a patient's veins. Since these treatments can be readily available in the average specialist's office, the need for patient hospitalization is minimized.
An specialist in infectious disease may also help patients avoid or prepare for situations in which they may come into contact with infectious diseases. For example, he or she can teach someone traveling to a foreign country about safe sanitation practices and common infectious diseases found in the area. Specialists may also recommend that patients receive immunizations before travel.
A patient who has been referred to an infectious disease specialist would do well to prepare himself for his first visit. Calling his general internist's office and making sure that all of his records have been forwarded to the specialist can help the doctor diagnose and treat the patient's disease. In addition, a patient should collect his immunization records and make lists of all known allergies and the medications he is taking to present to the specialist. It is important to remember that an the specialist will also work closely with the referring physician and may even refer patients to other doctors. All physicians related to the patient will work together to diagnose and treat him, though the infectious disease specialist may take the most active role in diagnosing, treating, managing, and preventing infections.