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Reflection on the use of antibiotics to treat ‘the old man’s friend’
  1. Paulo Luz
  1. Department of Medical Oncology, Centro Hospitalar Universitário do Algarve, Faro 8000, Portugal
  1. Correspondence to Dr Paulo Luz,Medical Oncology, Centro Hospitalar Universitário do Algarve, Faro, Portugal; p_luz{at}msn.com

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The use of the term ‘old man’s friend’ when referring to pneumonia is attributed to William Osler, who in the first edition of his book The Principles and Practice of Medicine (1892)1 wrote,

In children and in healthy adults the outlook is good. In the debilitated, in drunkards and in the aged the chances are against recovery. So fatal is it in the latter class [i.e. the elderly] that it has been termed the natural end of the old man.1

This was later rephrased in the ninth edition, after Osler himself died from pneumonia in 1919 at the age of 70 years, as ‘… one may say that …

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