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Epidemic Control Toolkit
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Vaccine-preventable diseases (including: diphtheria, chickenpox/varicella, mumps, rubella, whooping cough/pertussis)

Vaccine-preventable diseases (including: diphtheria, chickenpox/varicella, mumps, rubella, whooping cough/pertussis)

Last update: 2024-05-27

Key facts

Transmission: airborne, droplet-borne or direct contact

  • 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

  • Pregnant women and unborn babies 
  • People (especially children) who are malnourished or who have weakened immune systems 

Most vulnerable to contracting the disease

  • People who are not vaccinated 
  • Displaced populations and those who live in crowded, cramped conditions 

General symptoms

(** These diseases spread quickly through unvaccinated populations. It is important to be alert to groups or clusters of any of the following symptoms. **) 

  • Fever (usually)
  • Tiredness (usually)
  • Feeling unwell (usually)
  • Loss of appetite (sometimes) 
  • Headache (sometimes)
  • Runny nose (sometimes)

Disease-specific Symptoms

Disease Symptoms


  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty/pain when swallowing 
  • Swollen neck glands
  • Difficulty breathing (sometimes)
  • Itchy, small blisters (usually start on chest, back or face and then spread all over the body)
  • Pain and swelling in glands through the mouth, jaw, cheeks and throat (on one or both sides)
  • High fever (sometimes)
  • Stiff, sore neck (sometimes)
  • Severe headache (sometimes)
  • Deafness (sometimes)
  • Abdominal pain (sometimes)
  • Rash
  • Swollen glands in neck and head (sometimes)
  • Pink-eye/conjunctivitis (sometimes)
  • Joint pain (sometimes)
Whooping cough
  • Cough with a high “whoop” sound and cough may become worse at night (cough not always present in very young children)
  • Gasp sound when breathing in 
  • Difficulty breathing (sometimes)


What can you do to prevent and control an epidemic?

Monitoring the community and identifying sick people 

  • Identify and isolate sick people before they spread the disease to others

Treatment and management

  • Refer those with illness 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 (especially when a child is sick) 
    • Check the nutritional status of children under five years (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) 
    • BEFORE: preparing food; eating; feeding a child; treating wounds; or caring for sick people
    • AFTER: using the toilet or cleaning a baby; touching garbage or waste; touching or feeding animals; blowing nose, coughing or sneezing; treating wounds; or caring for sick people
  • Promote respiratory hygiene and coughing etiquette (cover cough or sneeze using a sleeve or 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 
    • Promote recommended health practices (such as routine vaccination programmes, social distancing, separation of healthy people and sick people, etc.)
  • 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 guidance of your supervisor and health authorities, work with communities to overcome barriers to following health advice and recommended practices 


  • Promote routine vaccination programmes for children
  • Support mass vaccination campaigns

Mapping and community assessment

  • Make a map of the community.
  • Mark the following information on the map:
    • How many people have fallen sick with a vaccine-preventable disease? 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 a vaccine-preventable disease? 
    • How many people live in the affected community? How many are children under five years?
    • Are most children in the community vaccinated against childhood diseases? 
      • Is there a vaccination campaign planned?
    • Do people generally have enough food?
    • 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 vaccine-preventable disease(s)? Are there other groups (specific ages, occupations, geographic areas, etc.) that are badly affected? 
    • What are the community’s habits, practices and beliefs about vaccinations? Are there societal, cultural or religious beliefs or perceptions that prevent people from getting vaccinated? 
    • What are the community’s habits, practices and beliefs about caring for and feeding sick people? Consider any differences in roles and responsibilities between men and women 
      • 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 vaccine-preventable disease(s)? Are there rumours or misinformation about vaccines? What are the rumours?