Heidi J. Zapata, MD, PhD, is an infectious disease specialist and immunologist at Yale Medicine, who sees inpatients at Yale New Haven Hospital and HIV-positive outpatients at the Nathan Smith Clinic in New Haven.
“Each patient teaches me more about how someone responds to an infection,” says Dr. Zapata. “I love learning. Each person has a story, and that helps us figure out why a certain infection has taken hold in that particular person.”
Dr. Zapata is fascinated by microbes. “It started in college with one of my first research projects that studied Trypanosomes (the parasite that causes sleeping sickness), continued during the pursuit of my PhD, when I studied the chicken pox virus, and is confirmed with each patient I see,” she says.
As a physician-scientist, she wants to understand why each human–microbe relationship is different. “One of my major research interests is why one person will die or get really sick from a microbe [bacteria, virus, fungi], and another person will only get mildly sick,” she says.
When treating patients for infectious diseases ranging from HIV to COVID-19, Dr. Zapata customizes her approach. She tailors each treatment to each microbe in a specific manner that is driven by culture data to help patients have their best chance at fighting off the infection. “I tell my patients that every person is different in how they will respond to infections, and that we will do our best to figure this out,” she says.
Dr. Zapata is also an assistant professor of medicine (infectious diseases) in the Department of Internal Medicine at Yale School of Medicine.