The incubation period of COVID-19: A meta-analysis

Int J Infect Dis. 2021 Mar;104:708-710. doi: 10.1016/j.ijid.2021.01.069. Epub 2021 Feb 3.


Objectives: A valid measurement of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) incubation period is needed for case definitions and for adapting appropriate isolation measures but is challenging in an emergency context. Our objective was to systematically review recent literature reporting estimates of the distribution of the incubation period of SARS-CoV-2 and describe the distribution and its variability and dispersion through a meta-analysis.

Methods: A systematic review was carried out on studies published from 1 January 2020 to 10 January 2021 reporting the SARS-CoV-2 incubation period. Individual mean and standard deviation were used to produce the pooled estimate. Sources of heterogeneity were explored by age, gender and study design using a meta-regression.

Results: In total, 99 studies were eligible for analysis in our meta-analysis. The pooled estimate of the mean incubation period across the studies was 6.38 days, 95% CI (5.79; 6.97).

Conclusion: Calculation of the mean incubation period will help with the identification of time of exposure, however, determinants of its variations/range might be explored for potential links with the clinical outcome or pathogenic steps at the early stage of infection. A real-time meta-analysis, named the InCoVid Lyon, is proposed following this initial analysis.

Keywords: COVID-19; Incubation; Infection Control; Meta-analysis; SARS-CoV-2.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / transmission*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infectious Disease Incubation Period*
  • Male
  • SARS-CoV-2*
  • Time Factors