Open Access Open Badges Research article

Understanding community perceptions, social norms and current practice related to respiratory infection in Bangladesh during 2009: a qualitative formative study

Fosiul A Nizame1*, Sharifa Nasreen1, Leanne Unicomb1, Dorothy Southern1, Emily S Gurley1, Shaila Arman1, Mohammad A Kadir1, Eduardo Azziz-Baumgartner12, Stephen P Luby12 and Peter J Winch3

Author Affiliations

1 International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (ICDDR, B), Dhaka, Bangladesh

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1600 Clifton Road, Atlanta, GA, USA

3 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, MD, USA

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:901  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-901

Published: 4 December 2011



Respiratory infections are the leading cause of childhood deaths in Bangladesh. Promoting respiratory hygiene may reduce infection transmission. This formative research explored community perceptions about respiratory infections.


We conducted 34 in-depth interviews and 16 focus group discussions with community members and school children to explore respiratory hygiene related perceptions, practices, and social norms in an urban and a rural setting. We conducted unstructured observations on respiratory hygiene practices in public markets.


Informants were not familiar with the term "respiratory infection"; most named diseases that had no relation to respiratory dysfunction. Informants reported that their community identified a number of 'good behaviors' related to respiratory hygiene, but they also noted, and we observed, that very few people practiced these. All informants cited hot/cold weather changes or using cold water as causes for catching cold. They associated transmission of respiratory infections with close contact with a sick person's breath, cough droplets, or spit; sharing a sick person's utensils and food. Informants suggested that avoiding such contact was the most effective method to prevent respiratory infection. Although informants perceived that handwashing after coughing or sneezing might prevent illness, they felt this was not typically feasible or practical.


Community perceptions of respiratory infections include both concerns with imbalances between hot and cold, and with person-to-person transmission. Many people were aware of measures that could prevent respiratory infection, but did not practice them. Interventions that leverage community understanding of person-to-person transmission and that encourage the practice of their identified 'good behaviors' related to respiratory hygiene may reduce respiratory disease transmission.

Non-pharmaceutical intervention; Pandemic; Influenza; Coughing; Sneezing; Respiratory hygiene