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Microbial Exchange via Fomites and Implications for Human Health


Purpose of review

Fomites are inanimate objects that become colonized with microbes and serve as potential intermediaries for transmission to/from humans. This review summarizes recent literature on fomite contamination and microbial survival in the built environment, transmission between fomites and humans, and implications for human health.

Recent findings

Applications of molecular sequencing techniques to analyze microbial samples have increased our understanding of the microbial diversity that exists in the built environment. This growing body of research has established that microbial communities on surfaces include substantial diversity, with considerable dynamics. While many microbial taxa likely die or lay dormant, some organisms survive, including those that are potentially beneficial, benign, or pathogenic. Surface characteristics also influence microbial survival and rates of transfer to and from humans. Recent research has combined experimental data, mechanistic modeling, and epidemiological approaches to shed light on the likely contributors to microbial exchange between fomites and humans and their contributions to adverse (and even potentially beneficial) human health outcomes.


In addition to concerns for fomite transmission of potential pathogens, new analytical tools have uncovered other microbial matters that can be transmitted indirectly via fomites, including entire microbial communities and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Mathematical models and epidemiological approaches can provide insight on human health implications. However, both are subject to limitations associated with study design, and there is a need to better understand appropriate input model parameters. Fomites remain an important mechanism of transmission of many microbes, along with direct contact and short- and long-range aerosols.

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