Fomites and Disease Control
A fomite is any inanimate object such as a food dish or toy that has the capability of carrying and transmitting infectious organisms. The most obvious fomites in the animal shelter setting would be objects that the animal directly touches each day. A few items that come to mind immediately would be their covers, toys, food dishes, water dishes, and litter boxes.
There are many items that can be easily overlooked as a contributor to the spread of disease. There could be so much time spent looking at only the main fomites that little attention is spent toward disinfecting smaller items, which could be detrimental. Each item within the shelter setting that could have the potential of being infectious to other animals or people should have their own individual disinfection plan that balances cost and effectiveness.
Some fomites that people often overlook include:
- Rabies pole
- Computer keyboards and mouses
- Boots or shoes
- Mobile and landline phones
- Rectal thermometers
Since hands are the biggest fomite of all, the shelter employees and volunteers are statistically the most likely to spread disease throughout the facility each day. This being the case, each staff member and volunteer should be completely up to date on their hygiene and sanitation protocols. Staff and volunteers must also be trained to to recognize subtle signs of disease. A well constructed standard operating protocol will seek to prevent problems and mistakes from happening such as guidelines or protocols not being followed.
The second biggest fomite is cellular devices. Cell phones can be a huge contributor to disease if you consider that people are programmed to use them without thinking about it. It would be easy enough to be in the middle of removing infected items from a cage to take a quick look at your phone. Looking at your phone while in the middle of removing infected items from a cage will likely contaminate your phone for a brief period of time.
Usage of the phone while cleaning a cage that belongs to healthy cat immediately afterwards could serve to transfer disease that started in the contaminated cage. The urge to text or call people should be ignored until proper sanitation is successfully reached. Cell phone usage should also be controlled while cleaning cages so that you can avoid spreading disease from one cage to another.
A few other fomites I want to discuss are brooms, mops, clothing, pet carriers, and shoes. In the shelter each item should be assigned to a specific area and not transferred between any areas for any reason. Color coding is the best possible way to prevent the improper identification of equipment.
Brooms and mops harbor bacteria very easily. Mixing a broom or mop between the isolation area and the adoption area could lead to an outbreak. Using one broom for every area to save money or time is not worth the risk of causing a major outbreak or spreading a fatal disease.
Mop buckets should never be rolled from one room to the next. Simply rolling the wheels of a stainless steel cart or mop bucket can pick up the food and litter from each area and transfer them to the next room you visit. Each area should have their own sink area so that mop buckets do not have to be wheeled from sick areas to healthy areas.
Pet carriers and live traps that animals are caught in or transported in need to be cleaned thoroughly. Animals that are trapped or transported may be incubating a disease, which is the time between infection and the appearance of clinical symptoms. During the incubation period, disease can still spread. Each cage should be given same consideration for thorough cleaning even if they appear healthy. Red tape should be used to shut off ill animals if they have to be kept in the adoption ward for some reason.
Clothing can pick up so much bacteria throughout the day. Clothing should be changed between each animal section and before opening to the public. You want to completely avoid spreading anything from current animals in the shelter to newly admitted animals or foster animals.
People cleaning the isolation and quarantine areas should have this as their only task. Having only one person clean the sick cat areas then having the rest of your staff avoid those locations can be the best way to prevent the spread of disease. There can still be windows to peek into the rooms to make sure the animals are doing okay. It is permissible to check in on them and medicate them before going home for the day.
Finally, another large fomite is shoes. Shoes can pick up infectious matter inside and outside of your shelter. Infectious matter picked up on shoes and clothing can be carried to each area you visit throughout the day. There has been incidents where a person has entered a friend’s house, picked up parvo infected feces on their shoes, and carried it to a shelter. This can be prevented by having shoes made specifically for each room or ward. If this is not possible, use Trifectant to clean your shoes in-between areas.
Keeping Fomites Under Control
You will need to follow a solid routine for disinfecting every fomite that is found in the animal shelter. Monthly meetings can be held for staff to discuss how the current disinfectant protocols are working or if they need tweaked.
It is only through consistent cleaning, education, and labeling that your shelter team will reach the goal of keeping the animals healthy and adoptable.
It is our hope that after reading this article that you have learned about the common fomites in the animal shelter, and how to prevent further contamination by identifying and cleaning up commonly overlooked items.