2014 Top Doctor: Joseph K. Zachariah, DO

Written by PM Staff Category: Profiles Issue: April 2014
Group Limited


Med School/Year Graduated: Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine, 1987
Years in Practice: 15

Who or what inspired you to specialize in infectious diseases?
I love a good mystery and infectious disease is all about solving mysteries. A person with fever could have a multitude of infectious possibilities depending on what they did, where they went and how their symptoms evolved. In addition, subtle clues on physical exams like a red spot on the inside of an eyelid, a splinter-like lesion on a fingernail or a subtle heart murmur can point to a diagnosis before any tests are back and that makes my day.

What made you interested in studying travel medicine? Did you have any personal experiences with infectious disease while abroad?
I think I inherited the “travel bug” from my grandmother, who took me on a five-hour bus ride to the nearest airport to watch planes land when I was 4 years old back in India! I have hiked, camped and backpacked nearly all my life and have traveled to over 50 countries. These experiences led me to create a website to help travelers called travelhealthadvisor.com. Mark Twain said, “Nothing broadens the mind nor loosens the bowels more than foreign travel.” I can say he was quite right.

What is the most dangerous country for travelers in terms of infectious disease?
I would have to say Somalia due to the polio outbreak that is going on. However, more than the country, it’s the activity that puts us at risk. For instance, if you go to live poultry markets in China you risk contracting bird flu. If you go caving in Congo or Uganda, you could be at risk for contracting Ebola virus.

What are essentials travelers should pack or know to protect them from infectious disease abroad?
I always pack hand gel or sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content, Band-Aids, small roll of gauze, Tylenol, anti-diarrheal medicine, five days’ supply of an antibiotic for diarrhea and malaria tablets if required. Always remember to wash hands and brush your mouth and rinse only with bottled water with an unbroken seal on the cap.

What are some of the most novel infectious diseases you’ve encountered or treated?
Just two weeks ago, I treated an infection of a heart valve with [an organism called] Erysipelothrix rhusiopathiae in a guy who cut his hand skinning a deer.