A fomite is any inanimate 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 term “fomite” gained popularity after being used in the 2011 film Contagion, although its use led people to believe that the term referred to germs spread through touching such objects, instead of the objects themselves.
The word fomite is a back-formation from the plural fomites, which was originally the Latin plural (fōmĭtēs) of the singular fōmĕs, literally meaning touchwood or tinder. In Classical Latin, fōmĭtēs was pronounced [ˈfoːmɪteːs]. But the modern English form is generally //, with the singular being "fomite" //, although the Shorter Oxford Dictionary prefers "fomes", and states that the word has been in use since 1658 in this sense.
- 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.
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