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Estimation of incubation period distribution of COVID-19 using disease onset forward time: A novel cross-sectional and forward follow-up study

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Science Advances  14 Aug 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 33, eabc1202
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.abc1202


We have proposed a novel, accurate low-cost method to estimate the incubation-period distribution of COVID-19 by conducting a cross-sectional and forward follow-up study. We identified those presymptomatic individuals at their time of departure from Wuhan and followed them until the development of symptoms. The renewal process was adopted by considering the incubation period as a renewal and the duration between departure and symptoms onset as a forward time. Such a method enhances the accuracy of estimation by reducing recall bias and using the readily available data. The estimated median incubation period was 7.76 days [95% confidence interval (CI): 7.02 to 8.53], and the 90th percentile was 14.28 days (95% CI: 13.64 to 14.90). By including the possibility that a small portion of patients may contract the disease on their way out of Wuhan, the estimated probability that the incubation period is longer than 14 days was between 5 and 10%.

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