What is Infectious Disease?
Infectious disease is a disorder caused by a germ. Germs are tiny living organisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites that live in and on our bodies and are normally harmless. Under certain conditions, some organisms may cause disease. Some infectious diseases can be passed from person to person. Some are transmitted from insect or animal bites. You can get infected by touching, eating, drinking or breathing something that contains a germ. Many infectious diseases can be prevented by vaccines. Frequent and thorough hand-washing also helps protect you from infectious diseases. Diagnosis and treatment can either take place in the office or a hospital setting depending on the severity of treatment needed.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms vary depending on the organism causing the infection, but often include fever and fatigue. Mild complaints may respond to rest and home remedies, while some life-threatening infections may require hospitalization. Each infectious disease has its own specific signs and symptoms. General signs and symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
What is an Infectious Disease (ID) Specialist?
An infectious disease (ID) specialist is a doctor of internal medicine, or in some cases, pediatrics, who is an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases. They have expertise in infections of the sinuses, heart, brain, lungs, urinary tract, bowel, bones and pelvic organs. Their extensive training focuses on all kinds of infections, including those caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites, as well as treating patients with infections due to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the cause of AIDS. ID specialists have knowledge in the use of antibiotics and their potential adverse effects and additional training in immunology (how the body fights infection), epidemiology (how infections spread) and infection control.
What Does an ID Specialist Do?
ID specialists review a patient's medical data, including records, X-rays and laboratory reports. They may perform a physical examination, depending on the type of problem. They also counsel healthy people who plan to travel to countries where there is an increased risk of infection.
Laboratory studies may be done and include blood studies and cultures of wounds or body fluids. They may order blood serum studies for antibodies indicating the presence of unusual or uncommon diseases. Work in the infectious disease specialty is limited to diagnosis and medical treatment.
When to see an Infectious Disease Specialist
Not everyone who has an infectious disease needs an infectious disease (ID) specialist. Your general internist can take care of most infections, but sometimes specialized expertise is needed to either diagnose or manage specific infectious diseases.
It may be necessary to consult an ID specialist when a fever raises the suspicion that you may have an infection, when an infection is potentially serious or when problems occur with treatment. These specialists can provide special insight into tests that will be helpful in diagnosing and understanding the infection and preventing recurrent infections. They can often help determine what treatment you need, if any, and whether you should receive antibiotics. You may not require any treatment, but if you do, they may consults with your personal doctor about which diagnostic testing and forms of treatment are best suited for your needs.
If you are hospitalized for an infection or acquire an infection while hospitalized, ID specialists will work with your care team to follow and help direct your hospital care. In some cases, they may continue to see you after you go home from the hospital.
Signs when you should seek medical attention include:
- Have been bitten by an animal
- Are having trouble breathing
- Have been coughing for more than a week
- Have severe headache with fever
- Experience a rash or swelling
- Have unexplained fever
- Have sudden vision problems
Benefits of UnityPoint Clinic Infectious Disease
Our infectious disease experts at UnityPoint Clinic are committed to customizing the diagnosis, treatment and maintenance of your disease to help you live a healthy life. ID specialists will also work with a care team so your care is coordinated no matter if you're in the doctor's office, the hospital or at home.