Modeling the role of fomites in a norovirus outbreak

Robert A. Canales, Kelly A. Reynolds, Amanda M. Wilson, Sonia L.M. Fankem, Mark H. Weir, Joan B. Rose, Sherif Abd-Elmaksoud, Charles P. Gerba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Norovirus accounts for a large portion of the gastroenteritis disease burden, and outbreaks have occurred in a wide variety of environments. Understanding the role of fomites in norovirus transmission will inform behavioral interventions, such as hand washing and surface disinfection. The purpose of this study was to estimate the contribution of fomite-mediated exposures to infection and illness risks in outbreaks. A simulation model in discrete time that accounted for hand-to-porous surfaces, hand-to-nonporous surfaces, hand-to-mouth, -eyes, -nose, and hand washing events was used to predict 17 hr of simulated human behavior. Norovirus concentrations originated from monitoring contamination levels on surfaces during an outbreak on houseboats. To predict infection risk, two dose-response models (fractional Poisson and 2 F 1 hypergeometric) were used to capture a range of infection risks. A triangular distribution describing the conditional probability of illness given an infection was multiplied by modeled infection risks to estimate illness risks. Infection risks ranged from 70.22% to 72.20% and illness risks ranged from 21.29% to 70.36%. A sensitivity analysis revealed that the number of hand-to-mouth contacts and the number of hand washing events had strong relationships with model-predicted doses. Predicted illness risks overlapped with leisure setting and environmental attack rates reported in the literature. In the outbreak associated with the viral concentrations used in this study, attack rates ranged from 50% to 86%. This model suggests that fomites may have accounted for 25% to 82% of illnesses in this outbreak. Fomite-mediated exposures may contribute to a large portion of total attack rates in outbreaks involving multiple transmission modes. The findings of this study reinforce the importance of frequent fomite cleaning and hand washing, especially when ill persons are present.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16-26
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of occupational and environmental hygiene
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2 2019


  • Fomites
  • houseboats
  • norovirus
  • outbreak
  • risk assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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