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Infectious disease specialists dig into the medical data from many sources

Jun 14, 2022, 10:35 AM by GoodHealth Magazine

Before the onset of COVID-19, most infectious disease physicians primarily worked out of the limelight, researching how to treat their patients’ symptoms. During the pandemic however, the most highly-trained and experienced infectious disease doctors, including those here in our county, played a key role in assisting public health leaders and helping to care for the most critically-ill COVID-19 patients.

Andrea Zambrano Sequera, MD, (“Dr. Zambrano”), Sansum Clinic’s newest infectious disease physician, says her colleagues here and abroad are focused on diagnosing and investigating their patients’ infections, and they prefer in most cases to fly under the radar. “We are quirky, nerdy people, detail-oriented, methodical and analytical,” describes Dr. Zambrano. “We do not go into this field to make money, to become famous or because we care about politics. We do it because it’s what we love, and we want to treat the people that are most in need.”

Dr. Andrea Zambrano

Infectious disease specialists are meticulous researchers who dig into the medical data from many sources including physical exams to determine what micro-organism may be the problem. Tropical diseases are not common in the U.S. outside of Florida, Louisiana or Hawaii, but the ID team does treat them often in returning travelers or immigrants. Infections in the bone, blood stream, urinary tract and skin, and valley fever are common diagnoses here, along with management of HIV. Care for infectious diseases involves medications as well as multidisciplinary coordination with other doctors and/or surgeons in the community to optimize a patient’s care. Dr. Zambrano enjoys the collaborative nature of her work. Her department regularly discusses cases and she can reach out to her many esteemed connections in academia when an infection is difficult to unravel.

After medical school in Venezuela, her home country, Dr. Zambrano completed her Internal Medicine residency here in Santa Barbara. She then moved to Seattle to complete her fellowship training at the University of Washington, renowned for its Infectious Disease and Allergy program. She has an impressive research resume in preventative ophthalmology from Johns Hopkins, and has seen many of the world’s tropical diseases first-hand, from the inner cities and Amazon communities within Venezuela, to Mexico, Nepal, and Tanzania. Her passion for helping underserved populations stems from her upbringing in Venezuela, where battling tropical diseases is a regular part of life. Working in the public hospitals, she observed a great disparity in care between social classes. This inspired her to pursue numerous global public health opportunities in places where care was needed most, and her life would become enmeshed with the local people. “It was humbling and fulfilling to experience their day to day and live in their homes. I learned how we can be respectful culturally, while also bringing medical care,” shares Dr. Zambrano. Building personal, compassionate relationships with patients is important when physicians are trying to change habits in order to prevent disease, she adds, whether that is somewhere across the globe or here in Santa Barbara.

COVID-19 and the birth of her son, who is now 9 months old, had already tempered Dr. Zambrano’s drive for international travel, so when the rare opportunity to join the Infectious Disease Department arose, a chance to return to the city where she did her residency at Cottage Hospital, she knew she could not pass it up. “Working in research and academia for a while, I had missed clinical medicine,” she admits. “I have been surprised at the variety of cases here.” She is not currently treating COVID-19 patients, but she is part of the infectious disease brain trust that helped to protect our community’s health during the pandemic. Santa Barbara is fortunate to have quite a few infectious disease physicians, since nearly 80% of counties in the U.S. do not have even one, according to a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Many of the counties missing this specialty were in places hit hardest by the impact of COVID-19. “We now understand the need to invest in public health, rapid diagnostics, and the ability to easily transmit medical data and statistics between institutions and countries. We are going there, but we are not all the way yet,” says the physician. “We know the importance of having infectious disease doctors, and a good public health system, and it’s great to be part of that collegial environment here.”


Photo Caption: Dr. Andrea Zambrano Sequera