Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Fomites can spread germs. What is a fomite?

Right now there’s a good chance that if you’re reading this, you’re reading it using a fomite.

What, pray tell, is a fomite?

Basically, a fomite is an inanimate object that can harbor germs (re: disease agents). Fomites can be just about anything: clothing, towels, books, toys, a faucet, a door handle, a computer keyboard, a copier button, an ink pen, and, yes, even a cellphone.

Fomites can then transmit diseases when you touch them, said Dr. Saghana Chakrabortty with Bon Secours’ Town Center Medical Associates in Virginia Beach.

Saghana Chakrabortty, MD, is a family practice physician with Bon Secours’ Town Center Medical Associates in Virginia Beach (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of Bon Secours)
Dr. Saghana Chakrabortty is a family practice physician with Bon Secours’ Town Center Medical Associates in Virginia Beach (HNNDaily photo/Courtesy of Bon Secours)

“A fomite may harbor germs from the skin, oral or nasal secretions, feces, urine, vomit, other body fluids and/or blood of a person or an animal,” Chakrabortty said. “These germs may survive for hours to weeks or months, depending on the type of organism and the environment of the fomite.”

Moisture and organic material in the fomite will help the germs survive even longer, he said.

Everyone knows that colds and influenza are spread via the respiratory system, when a person coughs or sneezes. The droplets are released into the air and sometimes onto a surface – or onto an inanimate object that lots of people touch or use.

Besides the cold and flu viruses, other nasty things can end up on a fomite. Things like E.coli, conjunctivitis, impetigo, meningitis, and more.

“Avoiding contact with any inanimate object that may have come into contact with disease-causing germs is probably the best way to avoid getting sick from a fomite. However, that is a difficult task,” he said.

Fomites are inanimate objects that can harbor germs and spread illness. How many fomites do you see in this photo? (Rami Yoakum/Southside Daily)
Fomites are inanimate objects that can harbor germs and spread illness. How many fomites do you see in this photo? (Rami Yoakum/HNNDaily)

Cleaning objects thoroughly with approved cleaners; washing clothes, bedcoverings and towels often; and cleaning surfaces frequently are a few ways to address potential fomites.

Perhaps the easiest and most effective way to avoid getting sick via a fomite is by not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth after touching or handling one, and by regular and thorough hand washing, Chakrabortty said.

“It is important to maintain good hand hygiene by washing hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water,” Chakrabortty said. “Unfortunately, some germs are difficult to remove completely. Vigilance is important when there is any question about contact with a bad bug.”

He said that Norovirus on a surface is a good example. The virus is resistant to standard cleaning agents and requires a mix of diluted bleach and water, or other, stronger, EPA-approved disinfectant.

John Mangalonzo
John Mangalonzohttp://wydaily.com
John Mangalonzo (john@localdailymedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.

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