Inflected Form(s): plural fo·mites /-mts; fäm--tz, fm-/
: an inanimate object (as a dish, toy, book, doorknob, or clothing) that may be contaminated with infectious organisms and serve in their transmission <the much maligned toilet seat is a remarkably ineffective fomite -- M. F. Rein> <what are the most common fomites for rotavirus in day-care settings -- Pediatric Report's Child Health Newsletter> (from Merriam Webster)
There was a study done recently regarding the cleanliness of computer keyboards (from Science Daily):
ScienceDaily (2005-04-18) -- Some potentially harmful bacteria can survive for prolonged periods of time on the keyboards and keyboard covers of computers, a study conducted at Northwestern Memorial Hospital has found. Gary A. Noskin, MD, who is medical director of healthcare epidemiology and quality at Northwestern Memorial and who led the study, advises periodic cleaning of computer equipment and hand washing after every computer use.
"The problem is especially important in hospitals and other healthcare environments where patients are at risk of contracting bacterial infections from healthcare providers who use computers," Dr. Noskin says. He presented his findings at the 15th Annual Scientific Session of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) in Los Angeles this week, and the study generated coverage from various news outlets including CNN, the Chicago Sun-Times and Reuters.
Noskin and his colleagues studied bacteria commonly found in the hospital environment. To determine the ability of bacteria to survive on computer keyboards, the researchers inoculated the equipment with three types of bacteria: vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus faecium (VRE), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PSAE). VRE and MRSA are examples of bacterial strains that have developed resistance to the antibiotics (including vancomyin and methicillin) commonly used on them. Although VRE and PSAE seldom cause problems except in hospitalized patients whose immune systems are compromised by other disease or illness, recent outbreaks of MRSA skin infections in otherwise healthy persons (community-acquired MRSA) have raised concern among infectious disease experts.
While it is common to worry about patient contact with the computer and access to data (or little kids turning it off), I have honestly never considered the cesspool we may harbor in each room. There are moments when I am tempted to swat people with the keyboard, but the risk this may expose patients to needs to be considered by anyone with an EMR.
Afraid of toilet seats? Be more afraid of keyboards.
I see an opportunity for an entrepreneur here: make a washable keyboard and market it to hospitals and doctors. We really don't need Electronic Medical Fomites.
Perhaps we need a sign that says: Employees must wash their hands after touching the keyboard.