A fomes (pronounced //) or fomite (//) is any object or substance capable of carrying infectious organisms, such as germs or parasites, and hence transferring them from one individual to another. Skin cells, hair, clothing, and bedding are common hospital sources of contamination.
Fomites are associated particularly with hospital acquired infections (HAI), as they are possible routes to pass pathogens between patients. Stethoscopes and neckties are two such fomites associated with health care providers. Basic hospital equipment, such as IV drip tubes, catheters, and life support equipment can also be carriers, when the pathogens form biofilms on the surfaces. Careful sterilization of such objects prevents cross-infection.
Researchers have discovered that smooth (non-porous) surfaces (e.g. door knobs) transmit bacteria and viruses better than porous materials (e.g. paper money). The reason is that porous, especially fibrous, materials absorb and trap the contagion, making it harder to contract through simple touch.
The Italian scholar and physician Girolamo Fracastoro appears to have first used the Latin word fomes, meaning tinder, in this sense in his essay on contagion, De Contagione et Contagiosis Morbis published in 1546:
"By fomes I mean clothes, wooden objects, and things of that sort, which though not themselves corrupted can, nevertheless, preserve the original germs of the contagion and infect by means of these..."
English usage of "fomes", pronounced //, is documented since 1658. The English word "fomite", which has been in use since 1859, is an incorrect back-formation from the plural "fomites" (originally borrowed from the Latin plural fōmĭtēs [ˈfoːmɪteːs] of fōmĕs [ˈfoːmeːs]). The English-language pronunciation of "fomites" is //, while the singular, "fomite", is pronounced //.
- Abad, F X; R M Pintó, A. Bosch (1994-10). "Survival of enteric viruses on environmental fomites". Applied and Environmental Microbiology 60 (10): 3704–10. PMC 201876. PMID 7986043.
- Pope, Theodore W; Peter T Ender, William K Woelk, Michael A Koroscil, Thomas M Koroscil (2002-12). "Bacterial contamination of paper currency". Southern Medical Journal 95 (12): 1408–10. PMID 12597308.
- Nutton, Vivian (1990). "The Reception of Fracastoro's Theory of Contagion: The Seed That Fell among Thorns?". Osiris (The University of Chicago Press). 2nd Series, Vol. 6, Renaissance Medical Learning: Evolution of a Tradition: 196–234. JSTOR 301787.
- Fracastoro, Girolamo (1961). "Contagion, contagious diseases and their treatment (1546)". In Brock, Thomas D. Milestones in Microbiology. Translated by Wright, Wilmer C. Prentice-Hall International. pp. 69–75. Retrieved 10 August 2013.
- "fomes". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.
- "fomite". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.
- "fomite". Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster.
- Horn, John (8 September 2011). "Word of Mouth: 'Contagion' could really catch on". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 12 August 2013.