Flippin’ Fomites

by maximusaurus

I know, what the bleep is a fomite, right? I hadn’t heard of them either til this year. Sounds like a baddie from the Legend of Zelda series, or something that would explode if you put a flame to it. (Or looked at it funny)

A fomite’s basically any object that can carry contagious organisms; everything from discarded syringes to door knobs.

I may not have known the word, but as for the thing itself, I’m pretty sure I’ve had specialized lobe of my brain dedicated to them since 2006. OCD keeps track of these things like a tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorist plastering newspaper cutouts around the inside of their house. (Or in this case, the inside of my skull)

For example, if someone steps in bird poo or a tissue, then doesn’t take their shoes off when they come into my house, I’ll remember everywhere they stepped like they’re laying invisible landmines, and try to avoid those spots. (Which often results in me looking like I’m playing indoor hopscotch, doing an impression of Big Bird’s mating dance, or trying to cross one of those Indiana Jones puzzles where stepping on the wrong tile kills you)

What’s really annoying is when the little buggers (the fomites, not people!) form “chains of transmission” that just get silly. For example, somebody walks around my house in dirty shoes. Then they drop a Wii remote on the floor where they’ve stepped, and pick it up. Then they touch my phone. My OCD throws on its tinfoil hat and says that the contamination has just passed from their shoes, to the floor, to the remote, to their hand, to my phone.

Now, that may sound absurd, but the annoying thing about OCD is that it bypasses rational thought; it’s the same as when you hear that anyone who looks in the mirror and says “Bloody Mary” three times will die. You know it’s a load of poppycock, but if you go to do it, there’s still that irrational, lurking fear. (Which explains why those awful “once you start reading this you can’t stop, share or you will die” things still get passed around the internet like chlamydia)

To combat this, I came up with what I called the PeTaL test; Presence, (are there realistically any dangerous germs in the first place?) Transmission, (would the contact pass them on, and if the amount passed on is less each time, would it still be infectious after 5 or so “transmissions”?) and Longevity. (Most of the really nasty micro-organisms can’t live outside the body for long)

I found that most situations would fail to pass at least one of these three tests, which made it easier to “break the chain” and dismiss them.

It’s still not easy; there’s a part of my brain that’s constantly keeping track of everything that everyone around me touches, setting off blood-chilling alarm bells every time they step in animal dung, pick their nose, or cough/sneeze. But I’m getting better at outsmarting it.