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Abstract Background Estimation of the SARS-CoV-2 incubation time distribution is hampered by incomplete data about infection. We discuss two biases that may result from incorrect handling of such data. Notified cases may recall recent exposures more precisely (differential recall). This creates bias if the analysis is restricted to observations with well-defined exposures, as longer incubation times are more likely to be excluded. Another bias occurred in the initial estimates based on data concerning travellers from Wuhan. Only individuals who developed symptoms after their departure were included, leading to under-representation of cases with shorter incubation times (left truncation). This issue was not addressed in the analyses performed in the literature. Methods We performed simulations and provide a literature review to investigate the amount of bias in estimated percentiles of the SARS-CoV-2 incubation time distribution. Results Depending on the rate of differential recall, restricting the analysis to a subset of narrow exposure windows resulted in underestimation in the median and even more in the 95th percentile. Failing to account for left truncation led to an overestimation of multiple days in both the median and the 95th percentile. Conclusion We examined two overlooked sources of bias concerning exposure information that the researcher engaged in incubation time estimation needs to be aware of.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Infectious Diseases


Springer Science and Business Media LLC

Publication Date