What Fomites Are, and What You Need to Know

August 31, 2022 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

You may not realize this, but you are actually constantly surrounded by fomites. Especially in relation to keeping your immediate environment safe from the spread of disease-causing bacteria or viruses, you’ve probably been taking steps or precautions against it without you necessarily being aware.

What Are Fomites?

You might be wondering how this could be possible. How could you have been dealing with fomites without knowing about them? What are fomites, exactly?

Fomites, otherwise known as passive vectors, are actually inanimate objects that become potent breeding grounds for bacteria, or touch surfaces that become ideal for spreading infectious agents.

More specifically, these everyday objects include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Doorknobs
  • Light switches
  • Mobile phones
  • Handrails
  • Elevator buttons
  • Countertops
  • Car handles
  • Clothing
  • Etc.

Sometimes, fomites need not necessarily be items that you touch often. It could also be a particular design of a structure that makes it susceptible to having higher levels of exposure to bacteria or microbes.

For example, doors and windows are potential fomites because they are directly exposed to outdoor microbes, which can then be transmitted indoors via contact. 

Fomites and Disease Transmission

How do fomites spread diseases? Fomites do not spread diseases in the same way that air vents can spread a virus by carrying them throughout an indoor structure. Or in the way that a viral cold might spread when one comes into close contact with a carrier. 

Rather, fomites help facilitate the transmission of diseases by being a source of exposure to harmful bacteria or microbes. 

For example, it’s important to make sure your countertops are clean, especially when working with meat products alongside vegetables because there is a high potential for cross-contamination. Even if you keep them physically separate, if the chicken you’re handling has salmonella, and then you put your salad ingredients in the same area afterward without thoroughly cleaning it, it’s possible that the salmonella may be transmitted to the salad, which is how you will ingest the salmonella. 

The common touch surfaces enumerated above are also high contact points that can cause you illness or discomfort. That is why it is crucial that you wash your hands often and regularly. Even if you do take precautions, you never know who else touched that surface, and where they came from. 

Fomite-Transmitted Diseases

There are many other possible diseases you could contract through fomites, but below are some of the most common:

  • Adenovirus
  • Coronavirus
  • Influenza
  • Rhinovirus
  • Rotavirus
  • Hand, foot and mouth disease
  • Hepatitis A, B, C

Practice Good Hygiene

Although it may seem like it’s nearly impossible to avoid the risks of exposure to disease-transmitting fomites, it’s not unpreventable. As long as you practice good hygiene, such as by washing your hands, especially after sneezing or coughing, or using the toilet, you can mitigate your risk of contracting–or spreading–bacteria and microbes that can cause illnesses.

Disinfectant wipes and spray can also help ensure that the touch surfaces in your immediate surroundings will not turn into fomites. 

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