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August 1962

Tonic or Treatment?

Author Affiliations

Departments of Microbiology, Medicine, and Pediatrics University of California Medical Center San Francisco 22

Arch Intern Med. 1962;110(2):141-143. doi:10.1001/archinte.1962.03620200001001

"The patient received antibiotics but failed to respond." How often these words are heard in case presentations! Yet they are as meaningless as the statement "the patient was given 'cardiac' drugs but did not improve." Did the patient receive penicillin, tetracycline, or neomycin? Did the physician prescribe digitalis, quinidine, or a diuretic? Each of these drugs has a specific clinical and pharmacologic effect. Prescribing the wrong antimicrobial drug can be as disastrous as prescribing the wrong "cardiac" drug.

In perspective the statement "the patient received antibiotics" dates from the time when penicillin was the main available antibiotic. Thus administering an antibiotic usually meant giving penicillin. The specific meaning of "the patient received antibiotics" was lost as more and more different antimicrobial drugs became available and were used on a large scale. Many doctors felt that all these drugs had similar effects because they all acted on microbes. And to many