A fomes (pronounced /ˈfmz/) or fomite (/ˈfmt/) 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).[1][2] 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:[3]
"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..."[4]

English usage of "fomes", pronounced /ˈfmz/, is documented since 1658.[5] 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]).[6] The English-language pronunciation of "fomites" is /ˈfmts/, while the singular, "fomite", is pronounced /ˈfmt/.[6][7]

Popular culture

Fomites play a conspicuous role in Steven Soderbergh's 2011 film Contagion about a pandemic.[8]

See also


External links

  • discussion on Language Log
  • General characteristics and roles of fomites in viral transmission
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