Meet 2015's Top Doctors
Meet Thomas J. Rush, MD
Specialty: Infectious Disease
Practice: Hudson Infectious Diseases Associates
Hospital Affiliation: Phelps Memorial Hospital Center, Sleepy Hollow
Having worked in the area of infectious disease in Westchester County for the past 28 years, Dr. Thomas Rush was present at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, when a diagnosis was tantamount to a death sentence. He has witnessed a change in both the disease itself, which is now considered a chronic illness—thanks to research and development of new and better medications—and the public perception of it. “Being part of this transformation has been the most meaningful thing I’ve been involved in during my career,” he says. In addition to working in private practice at Hudson Infectious Diseases Associates in Briarcliff Manor, Rush works with the New York State Department of Corrections, caring for patients with HIV and Hepatitis C.
Rush, who was initially drawn to the field of infectious disease for the intellectual challenge, says, “It is a very cerebral specialty, which involves piecing together medical clues, making sense of symptoms, and solving medical dilemmas; that’s what keeps drawing me back in!”
Which infectious disease causes the most serious problems in Westchester?
Obviously, one big problem in Westchester is tick-borne illness. In addition, HIV infection and Hepatitis C are pretty widespread as well. And because Westchester is an affluent but aging population, a lot of the cases I see are older people who are nearing the end of their lives and get infections.
In the realm of infectious disease, what concerns you most?
The problems created by resistant bacteria is a real concern. I have been seeing more and more resistant bacteria, and I’m concerned we will be dealing with more infections that we call gram-negative organisms, for which we have no antibiotics yet.
What is the best strategy for avoiding infectious disease?
It’s mostly common sense. Generally, stay healthy. Stay fit, eat well, don’t smoke, and get your vaccinations. We have a lot of ways of preventing infectious disease these days that are very effective. A lot of the infections I see are the results of smoking, diabetes, and obesity.
How do you feel about the anti-vaccination movement?
I think it is very destructive. It’s this conspiracy theory stemming from a suspicion of doctors, medicine, and science in general, and it’s very unfortunate because when parents refuse to have their children vaccinated, they potentially put a lot of other people at risk—not just their kids and themselves.
You were present at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. How are we doing in the fight against AIDS?
Progress has been spectacular in transforming what was once a uniformly fatal illness into something that is now a chronic manageable illness—along the lines of diabetes and high blood pressure. We are doing incredibly well, but there is always room to improve. The problem is that there are still a lot of infected people out there who are not in care. The big challenge today is connecting them with care and keeping them in care. If they take their medicine and the virus is suppressed in their bloodstream, they are less likely to pass it on to other people, and they are less likely to get sick themselves.
Profiles by Ali Jackson-Jolley | Photography by Toshi Tasaki