Physicians who are board certified in infectious diseases (ID) specialize in the treatment of illnesses that are caused by microorganisms – viruses, bacteria, fungi and protozoans (single-celled parasites, e.g., Giardia, which can cause serious gastrointestinal illness). Some ID physicians are generalists; many focus specifically on viral, bacterial, or fungal infections and can specialize even further within those categories (e.g., a viral diseases specialist with a particular clinical focus on HIV/AIDS).
Infectious diseases experts are most often asked to opine on causation, that is, the impact of a delayed or erroneous diagnosis. For example, a plaintiff’s attorney contacted us about a case in which a man’s leg had to be amputated due to complications of sepsis and osteomyelitis. He was initially seen at a small rural clinic, where his symptoms were misdiagnosed as a flareup of gout. A couple of days later, he was found lying on the floor with altered mental status and taken to the hospital. There he was correctly diagnosed with sepsis and underlying osteomyelitis. The issue for the ID expert was whether, if the plaintiff’s condition had been correctly diagnosed and promptly treated at the clinic, the infection would have been controlled and the loss of the plaintiff’s leg prevented.
The expert we referred, who was engaged by our client, practices general infectious diseases at a large academic medical center in Pennsylvania and is a full professor at the associated medical school. He consults on critically ill inpatients and also has a full teaching and research schedule. Of interest, his ID fellowship was at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he developed a particular clinical and research interest in malaria (which is caused by the protozoan parasite Plasmodium). He spent 6 years as the Chief of Malaria Immunology at the U.S. Army Medical Research Unit in Kenya, supervising a staff of over 150 dedicated to the testing of malaria vaccines and drugs. He retired from the Army with the rank of Colonel and maintains a primary research focus on malaria to this day, with the goal of developing a highly effective vaccine.