Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 12 Jan 2021

Fomites (singular: fomes) are used in medicine to refer to inanimate porous or non-porous objects, or surfaces colonized with microbes (viruses, bacteria, fungi) and serve as vehicles for transmitting many pathogenic microorganisms 1-3. Some examples of fomites are clothing, mobile phones, handrails, doorknobs, light switches, medical equipment, countertops, computer mice, computer keyboards 1-3.

Fomite transmission contributes to the spread of infectious diseases to susceptible hosts 1-3. Control or prevent infectious agents' spread requires a clear understanding of pathogens transmission in the environment 1-3. The prevention of many infectious diseases is by environmental hygiene with fomite-targeted interventions, emphasizing hands-on cleaning and disinfection of fomites 1-3.


Fomites is derived from Latin and in the original Latin the singular form is fomes, and this has been directly transplanted to modern English. Therefore the form "fomite" is a linguistically-incorrect back-formation and should not be used. However articles will be seen where it is used, often by people, e.g. microbiologists, who should really know better 5,6!

History and etymology

The word fomites was first used as early as the 1500s by the Italian physician and polymath Girolamo Fracastoro  (1483-1553) 3,4,7. This word derives from the Latin word fomes, which meant dust, touchwood, or kindling-wood 3-5.

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