Estimation of incubation period and serial interval of COVID-19: analysis of 178 cases and 131 transmission chains in Hubei province, China

Epidemiol Infect. 2020 Jun 19:148:e117. doi: 10.1017/S0950268820001338.


A novel coronavirus disease, designated as COVID-19, has become a pandemic worldwide. This study aims to estimate the incubation period and serial interval of COVID-19. We collected contact tracing data in a municipality in Hubei province during a full outbreak period. The date of infection and infector-infectee pairs were inferred from the history of travel in Wuhan or exposed to confirmed cases. The incubation periods and serial intervals were estimated using parametric accelerated failure time models, accounting for interval censoring of the exposures. Our estimated median incubation period of COVID-19 is 5.4 days (bootstrapped 95% confidence interval (CI) 4.8-6.0), and the 2.5th and 97.5th percentiles are 1 and 15 days, respectively; while the estimated serial interval of COVID-19 falls within the range of -4 to 13 days with 95% confidence and has a median of 4.6 days (95% CI 3.7-5.5). Ninety-five per cent of symptomatic cases showed symptoms by 13.7 days (95% CI 12.5-14.9). The incubation periods and serial intervals were not significantly different between male and female, and among age groups. Our results suggest a considerable proportion of secondary transmission occurred prior to symptom onset. And the current practice of 14-day quarantine period in many regions is reasonable.

Keywords: Coronavirus; epidemiology; incubation period; infectious disease; serial interval.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • COVID-19
  • Child
  • China / epidemiology
  • Contact Tracing
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infectious Disease Incubation Period*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission*
  • Young Adult