fo·​mite ˈfō-ˌmīt How to pronounce fomite (audio)
: an object (such as a dish, doorknob, or article of clothing) that may be contaminated with infectious agents (such as bacteria or viruses) and serve in their transmission

Did you know?

"Disinfectant on your hands keeps us healthier and fomites no longer foment as much disease." Australian newspaper contributor Peter Goers was likely going for alliteration when he paired up fomite and foment, a verb meaning "to promote the growth or development of"—but, whether he realized it or not, the words fomite and foment are related. Fomite is a back-formation of fomites, the Latin plural of fomes, itself a word for "tinder." (Much like tinder is a catalyst of fire, a fomite can kindle disease.) Fomes is related to the Latin verb fovēre ("to heat"), an ancestor of foment.

Examples of fomite in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Contracting mpox through indirect contact with fomites, including clothes, bed linens and towels, is low. Noor Adatia, Dallas News, 1 June 2023 At this point, the weight of the evidence suggests that the monkeypox virus can exist as an aerosol — either as a respiratory particle or as a fomite that’s been resuspended — but that inhaling these aerosols is not a major factor driving the epidemic. Megan Molteni, STAT, 12 Aug. 2022 But fomite transmission, or getting Covid through indirect contact with a contaminated surface, is not all that common, research now shows. Andrew Beaton, WSJ, 26 July 2021 While wearing your mask, the front of it especially should be treated as a potential fomite (source of transmission), so ensure proper fit when putting it on initially to avoid having to touch it while wearing. Corey Gaskin, Ars Technica, 18 Dec. 2021 It is spread primarily from symptomatic people to others who are in close contact through respiratory droplets, by direct contact with infected persons, or by contact with contaminated objects and surfaces (fomites). Dr. Tom Frieden and Dr. Cyrus Shahpar, CNN, 9 Apr. 2020 But while fomites are known to be the culprits in many outbreaks, an individual’s risk depends on a lot of factors. Joseph Eisenberg, The Conversation, 17 Mar. 2020 Once human carriers contaminate objects—known to medical professionals as fomites—there’s a new challenge of cleaning surfaces and washing hands to stymie the spread of the coronavirus. National Geographic, 13 Mar. 2020 Possible culprits for that kind of transmission include fomites, the objects and surfaces on which germs can land and hang out for up to a few hours, ready to be picked up. Aarian Marshall, Wired, 6 Mar. 2020 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'fomite.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


back-formation from fomites, from New Latin, plural of fomit-, fomes, from Latin, kindling wood; akin to Latin fovēre to heat — more at foment

First Known Use

1803, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of fomite was in 1803


Dictionary Entries Near fomite

Cite this Entry

“Fomite.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Oct. 2023.

Medical Definition


fo·​mite ˈfō-ˌmīt How to pronounce fomite (audio)
: an object (as a dish, toy, book, doorknob, or article of clothing) that may be contaminated with infectious agents (as bacteria or viruses) and serve in their transmission
the much maligned toilet seat is a remarkably ineffective fomiteM. F. Rein
what are the most common fomites for rotavirus in day-care settingsPediatric Report's Child Health Newsletter

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