What is Fomite Transmission?

Human papilloma virus (HPV), coloured transmission electron micrograph (TEM). Science Photo Library - PASIEKA/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Fomite transmission refers to the transmission of infectious diseases by objects.


Fomite transmission occurs when viruses or bacteria that remain on surfaces cause infections. This is as opposed to diseases being transmitted from person to person, in the air, in infected water, or in another manner. Some diseases are more likely to be transmitted by fomites than others.

Just because living pathogens can be found on surfaces does not necessarily mean that fomite transmission to humans can take place. The risk of fomite transmission varies depending on a number of factors. Unfortunately, not all of these factors are well understood.


Surface cleaners play a role in reducing the spread of infections. So does hand-washing. However, not all disinfectants work equally well at killing off all viruses and bacteria. Some pathogens are more susceptible to specific detergents than others. Still, regular cleaning of surfaces that come into contact with potentially infectious body fluids is a good way to reduce the risk of fomite transmission even if it is not 100 percent effective.

If you share a household with someone with an infectious disease and you are concerned about fomite transmission, start at the store. Read the label on the disinfectant you are using as a surface cleaner. Most of them will spell out which pathogens they are effective against. That way you can pick the disinfectant best suited to your needs.

STDs That Can Be Transmitted by Fomites

HPV has been found on numerous surfaces. It can be transmitted from hands to genitals. It's also likely that it can be transmitted from surfaces, such as sex toys.

Hepatitis C, as well as the other hepatitis viruses, may also be transmitted by fomites. Fortunately, hepatitis A and hepatitis B are both preventable by vaccine. There are also new, more effective treatments for hepatitis C.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
  • Anderson TA, Schick V, Herbenick D, Dodge B, Fortenberry JD. A study of human papillomavirus on vaginally inserted sex toys, before and after cleaning, among women who have sex with women and men. Sex Transm Infect. 2014 Nov;90(7):529-31. doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2014-051558
  • Liu Z, Rashid T, Nyitray AG. Penises not required: a systematic review of the potential for human papillomavirus horizontal transmission that is non-sexual or does not include penile penetration. Sex Health. 2015 Oct 5. doi: 10.1071/SH15089.
  • Paintsil E, Binka M, Patel A, Lindenbach BD, Heimer R. Hepatitis C virus maintains infectivity for weeks after drying on inanimate surfaces at room temperature: implications for risks of transmission. J Infect Dis. 2014 Apr 15;209(8):1205-11. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jit648.
  • Ryndock EJ, Meyers C. A risk for non-sexual transmission of human papillomavirus? Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2014 Oct;12(10):1165-70. doi: 10.1586/14787210.2014.959497.