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Infectious Diseases

Infectious diseases are disorders caused by an organism, such as bacteria or viruses. The highly trained physicians who treat these disorders are doctors of internal medicine known as infectious disease specialists.

Infectious disease doctors

A doctor in this field of medicine has extensive knowledge of the functions of the body's immune system as well as the entire anatomy. Before an infectious disease specialist can practice in this field of medicine, he or she must complete nine to thirteen years of training, including a bachelor's of science degree with a major in studies such as biology, chemistry, mathematics or physics. 

Upon graduating with an undergraduate degree in science, an infectious disease specialist must attend four years of medical school to pursue a medical degree with a specialization in internal medicine. Following medical school, an infectious disease specialist goes through a residency program for internal medicine.

The residency for internal medicine typically takes three to seven years. The doctor then must take an exam for a license to practice medicine and get a certification in internal medicine through the board of medicine followed by two to three years of training that is specifically in infectious disease.

After completing all this training, the doctor takes an exam to become board-certified in infectious disease.

What is an infectious disease?

An infectious disease is transferred through direct contact three different ways including person-to-person, animal-to-person or mother-to-fetus. Person-to-person is the most common way an infectious disease spreads. Infected pets can spread disease to people through biting or scratching and by people handling an infected animals waste. A pregnant woman can pass an infectious disease to her unborn baby through the placenta or vagina.

You'll typically see an infectious disease specialist if you're hospitalized for an illness that could be contagious or if you contract an infectious disease during a hospitalization. If you go to a family physician for an unknown illness and the doctor suspects the symptoms are possibly due to an infectious disease, he or she will refer you to an infectious disease specialist. These specialists are trained to conduct various tests to determine whether you have a disease that is contagious.

The three largest healthcare crises that an infectious disease specialist deals with are HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. The majority of childhood diseases that need treatment by an infectious disease specialist include measles, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and polio. General physicians often refer both children and adults to an infectious disease specialist for lower respiratory illness and diarrhea.

Some of the other most common reasons for seeing an infectious disease specialist include meningitis, syphilis, hepatitis B and tropical diseases. The most current and common threat among children and adults is swine flu and West Nile virus.

Finding an infectious disease doctor

If your family physician can't diagnose or treat your infection and has recommended that you see an infectious disease specialist, he or she can provide you the names of local infectious disease specialists.

Search your health insurance company's online directory for infectious disease specialists in your network. Carefully research the specialist you are considering. Verify their qualifications, education, continuing education, accepted insurance plans and affiliated hospitals by consulting Angie's List, where you can also see member reviews and rankings.