Fomites: A-to-Z Guide from Diagnosis to Treatment to Prevention

Fomites are inanimate objects that carry disease-causing germs that spread infections. Fomites are one of the most common ways that kids get sick.

It is easier to catch a cold by borrowing a crayon or by turning off a faucet after washing your hands than by kissing on the lips. Why? Crayons, faucet handles, toothbrushes, telephones, and toys can be fomites!

What are they?

Fomites are inanimate objects that carry disease-causing germs that spread infections. This is one of the most common ways that kids get sick. Diseases that spread by droplet transmission, fecal–oral transmission, or contact transmission often do so by means of fomites.

Toys in a daycare or in a doctor’s waiting room may have been handled (or mouthed) by contagious kids. Cutting boards and kitchen sponges may teem with bacteria from the uncooked food they have touched. Kids’ toothbrushes in the same drawer or cup may be the way that colds spread through the family.

Germs commonly live on fomites for minutes or hours or sometimes even longer. The most likely fomites are objects that frequently come into contact with uncooked food, toileting or diapering activities, dirt, or the bodies of living creatures (especially if the objects are moist or are stored in a dark place). Tissues, diapers, hairbrushes, forks, and spoons are also common. Dry, impersonal objects, such as walls, light fixtures, or door frames, are less likely to spread infection.

Diseases that commonly spread by means of fomites include the common cold, cold sores, conjunctivitis, coxsackievirus (hand-foot-mouth disease), croup, E. coli infection, fifth disease (“slap cheek”), Giardia, impetigo, influenza, lice, meningitis, pinworms, rotavirus diarrhea, and RSV. infection

How can they be prevented?

Fomites are an opportunity to interrupt the spread of infection. By recognizing them, avoiding them, disinfecting them, or cleansing the hands after touching them, the spread of many infections can be halted.

Cooties, Cutting boards, Germs, Hairbrushes, Tissues

Last medical review on: January 07, 2014
About the Author
Photo of Alan Greene MD
Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
Get Dr. Greene's Wellness RecommendationsSignup now to get Dr. Greene's healing philosophy, insight into medical trends, parenting tips, seasonal highlights, and health news delivered to your inbox every month.