Coronavirus Symptoms Usually Appear After 5 Days, Study Finds

BALTIMORE — The average time from exposure to the arrival of outward symptoms in COVID-19 patients is roughly 5.1 days. That’s the finding of a new study just released by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that analyzed publicly available data on coronavirus infections.

The CDC is already experiencing it’s fair share of criticism in how it has handled this now pandemic-level public health threat. But, if these findings are indeed accurate, it would mean that their current policy of a 14-day quarantine period for individuals potentially exposed to the virus is quite reasonable.

Just about 97.5% of people who end up developing sure-fire signs of the new coronavirus will do so within 11.5 days of being exposed to the virus, according to these calculations. Researchers estimate that for every 10,000 people quarantined for two weeks, only 101 would develop symptoms after being released.

In all, 181 cases from China were examined for this study, as well as patients from other countries that had been reported prior to February 24th. Most of these cases involved traveling to or from Wuhan, China, the virus’ epicenter, or exposure to someone who had been to Hubei, Wuhan’s larger province.

“Based on our analysis of publicly available data, the current recommendation of 14 days for active monitoring or quarantine is reasonable, although with that period some cases would be missed over the long-term,” says study senior author Justin Lessler, an associate professor in the Bloomberg School’s Department of Epidemiology, in a release.

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Formulating an precise incubation period for a new virus is incredibly important; it allows public health officials to accurately predict an outbreaks trajectory and plan accordingly. With an accurate incubation period to work with, quarantine efforts should, for all intensive purposes, prove effective in stopping the outbreak.

Still, that doesn’t make the act of quarantining people any less invasive from a personal and societal standpoint. Even Lessler himself admits that quarantining large amounts of people is detrimental to the economy and overall functioning of communities.

On a somewhat positive note, these estimates essentially mimic the incubation period for SARS-CoV, the coronavirus that caused a major health scare in Asia back in 2002-2004. This at least offers the suggestion that the new novel coronavirus will eventually be put under control just like the SARS outbreak close to 20 years ago.

The study is published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

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