Infectious Disease Medicine Doctor: Your Vaccination & Travel Medicine Specialist

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What is an infectious disease medicine doctor?

Infectious disease medicine is a subspecialty of internal medicine. Infectious disease medicine doctors specialize in preventing, diagnosing and treating infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. They also have extensive knowledge in immunology, epidemiology, and infection control. Infectious disease specialists focus on the health needs of adults who require expert diagnosis or treatment of a specific infectious disease.

An infectious disease doctor typically:

  • Evaluates a patient’s medical history including results from previous blood tests, X-rays, and other diagnostic tests

  • Performs a physical exam

  • Orders and interprets laboratory studies and prescribes medications

  • Diagnoses and treats infectious diseases including post-surgical infections, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)

  • Teachers patients and caregivers about infectious disease prevention

Infectious disease doctors may also be known as infectious disease specialists. These specialists also conduct research at medical centers and universities around the world.

Who should see an infectious disease doctor?

In most cases, primary care doctors will refer patients to an infectious disease doctor if they suspect that an infectious disease requires specialized care and treatment. You may also see an infectious disease doctor if you are hospitalized for an infection or contract an infection while hospitalized. If you are planning travel outside the United States, your primary care doctor may recommend seeing an infectious disease specialist. Depending on your destination, you may be at risk of contracting an infectious disease. 

When should you see an infectious disease doctor?

Your doctor may refer you to an infectious disease doctor under the following circumstances:

  • Your doctor cannot determine the cause of your symptoms.

  • You have unexplained fever and flu-like symptoms, such as muscle ache, fatigue, and no appetite, that don’t respond to treatment.

  • You are traveling to a foreign country where the risk of infection is high. A travel doctor can provide necessary vaccinations and recommend the best prevention and treatment methods.

  • You are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS or another type of infectious disease that requires long-term treatment and specialized care.

  • You are an organ transplant recipient taking medications that increase your risk of developing infections.

Your primary care doctor will work closely with your infectious disease doctor to determine the best treatment plan and to manage your care. If you need specialized care, find an infectious disease doctor in your area.

What does an infectious disease doctor treat?

Most infections do not require an infectious disease doctor’s extensive knowledge and expertise. They typically care for people with infections that are rare, difficult to diagnose, or difficult to treat. An infectious disease doctor treats a variety of infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites including:

  • Abdominal and genitourinary tract infections including abdominal abscess, peritonitis, complex or recurrent urinary tract infection (UTI), and pyelonephritis (kidney infection)

  • Bone and joint infections including osteomyelitis and septic arthritis

  • Central nervous system infections including brain abscess, meningitis, and encephalitis

  • Food-borne infections including salmonellosis, toxoplasmosis, trichinosis, botulism, and E. coli infections

  • Hospital-acquired or difficult to treat infections including post-surgical infections, MRSA, Clostridium difficile (C diff), and medical device-related infections, such as indwelling catheters or implanted ports

  • Infections in immunocompromised people including cancer patients, transplant recipients, and HIV/AIDS patients

  • Respiratory infections including influenza, pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, pertussis (whooping cough), tuberculosis (TB), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)

  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including syphilis, HIV/AIDS, and hepatitis B and C<

  • Skin, soft tissue, and muscle infections including skin abscess, necrotizing fasciitis, infectious myositis, and wound infections

  • Systemic infections including West Nile virus, sepsis, fever of unknown origin, and endocarditis (heart infection)

  • Travel-related infections including malaria, yellow fever, typhoid, cholera, and hepatitis A and B

What does an infectious disease doctor test?

An infectious disease doctor orders or performs the following diagnostic and screening tests:

  • Culture and sensitivities including microbiology cultures of wounds, abscesses, stool, tissue samples, nasal and throat swabs, and bodily fluids (blood, urine, cerebrospinal fluid, joint fluid, phlegm, and others), and tests to determine a microorganism’s sensitivity to medications

  • General health procedures including physical exam, blood oxygen level (pulse oximetry), blood pressure, weight, and height

  • Imaging studies including X-rays, ultrasounds, CT (computed tomography) scans, and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)

  • Laboratory studies including complete blood count (CBC), urinalysis, antibody tests, and C-reactive protein (a measure of inflammation)

  • Tissue tests including biopsies and skin tests

What treatments does an infectious disease doctor perform?

Common treatments include:

  • Immunizations to prevent infectious diseases including diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, smallpox, tetanus and influenza

  • Medications to cure infections including antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals, and antiparasitic drugs

  • Prophylactic antimicrobials and other medicines to help prevent certain infections including post-exposure prophylaxis of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis infections

  • Travel vaccination and chemoprophylaxis to prevent infections including hepatitis A and B, typhoid, yellow fever, Japanese B encephalitis, malaria, and meningococcal disease

Some infectious diseases require hospitalization and treatment with intravenous (IV) medications.

Infectious disease doctor training and certification

When choosing an infectious disease medicine doctor, board certification should be one of your top priorities. A doctor may practice infectious disease medicine without becoming board certified in the specialty. However, board certification means the doctor has the knowledge and skills necessary to deliver high-quality, up-to-date care.

A doctor must first be board certified in internal medicine and fulfill additional training requirements to be eligible for subspecialty board certification in infectious disease. The American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Osteopathic Board of Internal Medicine certify MDs and DOs in infectious disease medicine. A doctor must participate in an ongoing recertification program to maintain board certification.

There are no further subspecialties of infectious disease. However, there are doctors focus on treating a specific type of condition, such as HIV/AIDS, travel medicine, or transplant-related infections.

If your child needs to see an infectious disease medicine doctor, look for a board-certified pediatric infectious disease doctor. Pediatric infectious disease is a subspecialty of pediatrics. 

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Jan 24
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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