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fomites

[ fom-i-teez, foh-mi-. ]
/ ˈfɒm ɪˌtiz, ˈfoʊ mɪ-. /
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plural noun, singular fo·mes [foh-meez], /ˈfoʊ miz/, fo·mite [foh-mahyt]. /ˈfoʊ maɪt/.
Pathology. surfaces, as clothing or door handles, that can become contaminated with pathogens when touched by the carrier of an infection, and can then transmit the pathogens to those who next touch the surfaces: Doorknobs are often cited as the classic fomites, although there’s nothing unusual about spreading disease via such fomites as toys, towels, elevator buttons, light switches, and remote controls.
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Origin of fomites

First recorded in 1800–05; from Latin fōmitēs, plural of fōmes; see fomes

Words nearby fomites

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

MORE ABOUT FOMITES

What are fomites?

Fomites are surfaces that can become contaminated by infectious pathogens. By touching fomites, you can pick up those pathogens.

Many diseases are caused by such organisms as bacteria and viruses, collectively called pathogens. A pathogen is considered to be infectious if it can spread from person to person through contamination. Surfaces, such as countertops or door handles, that can become contaminated by infectious pathogens are called fomites.

Let’s say you become infected with the flu, that is, influenza. Once you’re sick with the flu, your fluids, such as mucus and sweat, contain copies of the flu virus. You know you need to cover your mouth when you cough to prevent your saliva from spraying on to people near you. So you cover your mouth with your hands when you cough.

Now, however, your hands are covered in saliva and mucus and they contain the virus. If you touch a surface, like a doorknob or a keyboard, the pathogens on your hands will also contaminate the surface you touch. It becomes a fomes (the singular form of fomites). If your mom then touches the fomes, the virus will now be on her hand too. All your mom has to do now is touch her mouth, ear, or face and the virus will be able to enter her body and infect her with influenza as well.

Multiple people can become infected by one virus by touching the same fomites. This is why washing your hands is so important. The soaps and other cleansing products we use to wash our hands can kill or remove pathogens before they are able to spread via fomites.

Why is fomites important?

The first records of the term fomites come from around 1800. It comes from the Latin fōmitēs, the plural of fōmes, meaning “kindling wood” or “tinder.” Appropriately enough, fomites keep the “fire” of an infection burning by helping it spread.

Not all diseases spread through contact with fomites. Viruses especially like being inside living creatures and will often quickly die when outside a living being. The most common types of pathogens that are able to survive on fomites for a period of time include those that cause respiratory illnesses, such as influenza, and pathogens that cause diarrheal illnesses, such as the rotavirus.

Keep in mind that there are no cures for viruses. Once you have a virus, it will rapidly reproduce by infecting your cells. For this reason, the best “treatment” for a virus is to never get it in the first place. To help with this, medical organizations highly recommend practicing good hygiene (wash those hands!) and frequently cleaning surfaces with decontaminants to prevent them from becoming a resting place for pathogens.

Did you know … ?

In 2020, an especially infectious coronavirus commonly known as COVID-19 caused a global pandemic. While many coronaviruses are to spread through fomites, only a few cases of COVID-19 have been reported to perhaps come from fomites. The best way to avoid catching COVID-19 is to wash your hands frequently and follow all other CDC recommendations, as scientists learn more about this disease.

What are real-life examples of fomites?

Fomites are often a concern during an outbreak of an infectious disease.

 

What other words are related to fomites?

Quiz yourself!

True or False?

Fomites are pathogens that are able to survive on surfaces long enough to infect a person with a disease.

How to use fomites in a sentence

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