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March 10, 2020 Tuesday 03:26:32 PM IST

Coronavirus symptoms start about five days after exposure

Science Innovations

A new study led by researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests that the median incubation period for SARS-CoV-2—the new coronavirus that causes the respiratory illness COVID-19—is 5.1 days. This median time from exposure to onset of symptoms suggests that the 14-day quarantine period used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for individuals with likely exposure to the coronavirus is a reasonable amount of time to monitor individuals for the development of the disease. The analysis suggests that about 97.5% of people who develop symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 infection will do so within 11.5 days of exposure. The researchers estimated that for every 10,000 individuals quarantined for 14 days, only about 101 would develop symptoms after being released from quarantine. The findings were published online today in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

For the study, the researchers analyzed 181 cases from China and other countries that were detected prior to Feb. 24, were reported in the media, and included likely dates of exposure and symptom onset. Most of the cases involved travel to or from Wuhan, China, the city at the center of the epidemic, or exposure to individuals who had been to Hubei, the province for which Wuhan is the capital.

The CDC and many other public health authorities around the world have been using a 14-day quarantine or active-monitoring period for individuals who are known to be at high risk of infection due to contact with known cases or travel to a heavily affected area. An accurate estimate of the disease incubation period for a new virus makes it easier for epidemiologists to gauge the likely dynamics of the outbreak. It also allows public health officials to design effective quarantine and other control measures. Quarantines typically slow and may ultimately stop the spread of infection, even if there are some outlier cases with incubation periods that exceed the quarantine period.

The new estimate of 5.1 days for the median incubation period of SARS-CoV-2 is similar to estimates from the earliest studies of this new virus, which were based on fewer cases. This incubation period for SARS-CoV-2 is in the same range as SARS-CoV, a different human-infecting coronavirus that caused a major outbreak centered in southern China and Hong Kong from 2002-04. For MERS-CoV, a coronavirus that has caused hundreds of cases in the Middle East, with a relatively high fatality rate, the estimated mean incubation period is 5–7 days. Human coronaviruses that cause common colds have mean illness-incubation periods of about three days.


Lessler and colleagues have published an online tool that allows public health officials and members of the public to estimate how many cases would be caught and missed under different quarantine periods.


(Content Written by Jonathan Eichberger on https://hub.jhu.edu/2020/03/09/coronavirus-incubation-period/)


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