What the heck is a fomite?

Staying Safe

A. TL; DR: The term fomite refers to a contaminated surface or object (e.g., serving spoon, door knob) that allows for the transmission of an infectious agent.

The good news is that fomite transmission is not common for the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Nerdy Girls love words! Let’s take a dive into the origin of the term fomite. Fomite comes from the two-syllable word Latin word fomes, which turns into a three-syllable word when made plural: fomites! Say what? THREE syllables? Yep! But that’s with the Latin pronunciation.

In current English use, the two-syllable singular word fomite has been backformed by dropping the letter s from fomites.

So, what does fomes mean? Fomes means kindling wood or tinder. Just as kindling wood keeps the fire alive and available to spread, a fomite keeps the infectious agent alive until it is picked up by another living thing and spread.

Thankfully, over the course of this pandemic, we’ve learned that fomite transmission is very rare for the virus that causes COVID-19. Thus, most of us have stopped unnecessarily wiping down our groceries and packages. What a relief.

It’s still good practice to keep washing our hands and keep our cooking and living surfaces clean to avoid exposure to other contaminants.

Fantastic image was prepared by Anna Van Riet and Beth Coppoc Gunshor

For additional information on fomite transmission, read here:


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