Downloading content for offline mode
Cancel download
Epidemic Control Toolkit
for community volunteers
Switch to response managers
hamburger icon
Acute respiratory infections (ARIs)

Acute respiratory infections (ARIs)

Last update: 2024-03-13

Key facts

Transmission: Airborne or droplet-borne (usually)

  • When infected people cough, sneeze, blow their nose or spit, they spread small particles or droplets through the air, which are then breathed in by other people
  • Direct contact (for example, through kissing, sharing cups or eating utensils) with infected saliva or nose mucous

Most vulnerable to severe consequences

  • Children under five years old
  • Elderly
  • People with weakened immune systems or other respiratory problems

Most vulnerable to contracting the disease 

  • Displaced populations and others who live in overcrowded environments


  • Cough (may cough up mucous or phlegm)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fever (sometimes)

What can you do to prevent and control an epidemic?

Monitoring the community and identifying sick people 

  • Identifying people with suspected ARIs  
  • Identify and isolate sick people before they spread the disease to others 

Treatment and management

  • Referral of serious cases (example: high fever, difficulty breathing, rapid respirations) to health facilities
  • Manage and improve nutritional situation, especially of children
    • Encourage exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and complementary breastfeeding until the age of two years, and especially when children are sick.
    • Check the nutritional status of children under five (MUAC screening), refer cases of suspected malnutrition to health services and support nutritional programming
  • Provide psychosocial support to the sick person and their family members

Safe shelters and spaces

  • Reduce overcrowding and improve ventilation in living shelters, workplaces and schools if possible

Hand and respiratory hygiene

  • Promote good hand hygiene (handwashing with soap) 
  • Promote respiratory hygiene and coughing etiquette (cover your cough or sneeze using your sleeve or a tissue, wash hands after coughing or sneezing, do not spit onto the ground or in public)
  • Use personal protection (for example, face mask)

Social mobilization and health promotion

  • Find out the specific advice being given by health and other relevant authorities 
  • Model following this advice and inform community members of current health practice advice 
  • Offer support and encouragement to follow the advice  
    • Try to gain understanding about if and why health practice advice is not being followed  
    • With the advice of your supervisor and health authorities, work with communities to overcome barriers to following health advice and recommended practices 
  • Promote social distancing

Mapping and community assessment

  • Make a map of the community.
  • Mark the following information on the map:
    • How many people have fallen sick with acute respiratory infections? Where?
    • How many people have died? Where? When?
    • Who and where are the vulnerable people?
    • Where are the local health facilities and services? (include traditional healers)
  • Record the following information on the back of the map:
    • When did people start to fall sick with acute respiratory infections? 
    • How many people live in the affected community? How many are children under five years?
    • How common is it for people to live together in crowded spaces? Is there ventilation and fresh air in homes, schools and workplaces? 
    • Are children badly affected by acute respiratory infections? Are there other groups (specific ages, occupations, geographic areas, etc.) that are badly affected? 
    • What are the community’s habits, practices and beliefs about caring for and feeding sick people? Consider any differences in roles and responsibilities between women and men. 
      • When babies and infants are sick, do women continue to breastfeed them?
    • Is a social mobilization or health promotion programme in place?
    • Which sources do people use/trust the most for information?
      • Are there rumours or misinformation about acute respiratory infections? What are the rumours?