Estimating the generation interval for COVID-19 based on symptom onset data

  • Ganyani T
  • Kremer C
  • Chen D
  • et al.
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Background: Estimating key infectious disease parameters from the COVID-19 outbreak is quintessential for modelling studies and guiding intervention strategies. Whereas different estimates for the incubation period distribution and the serial interval distribution have been reported, estimates of the generation interval for COVID-19 have not been provided. Methods: We used outbreak data from clusters in Singapore and Tianjin, China to estimate the generation interval from symptom onset data while acknowledging uncertainty about the incubation period distribution and the underlying transmission network. From those estimates we obtained the proportions pre-symptomatic transmission and reproduction numbers. Results: The mean generation interval was 5.20 (95%CI 3.78-6.78) days for Singapore and 3.95 (95%CI 3.01-4.91) days for Tianjin, China when relying on a previously reported incubation period with mean 5.2 and SD 2.8 days. The proportion of pre-symptomatic transmission was 48% (95%CI 32-67%) for Singapore and 62% (95%CI 50-76%) for Tianjin, China. Estimates of the reproduction number based on the generation interval distribution were slightly higher than those based on the serial interval distribution. Conclusions: Estimating generation and serial interval distributions from outbreak data requires careful investigation of the underlying transmission network. Detailed contact tracing information is essential for correctly estimating these quantities. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest. ### Funding Statement NH acknowledges funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement 682540 - TransMID). CF, NH and JW acknowledge funding from the European Union's SC1-PHE-CORONAVIRUS-2020 programme. ### Author Declarations All relevant ethical guidelines have been followed; any necessary IRB and/or ethics committee approvals have been obtained and details of the IRB/oversight body are included in the manuscript. Yes All necessary patient/participant consent has been obtained and the appropriate institutional forms have been archived. Yes I understand that all clinical trials and any other prospective interventional studies must be registered with an ICMJE-approved registry, such as I confirm that any such study reported in the manuscript has been registered and the trial registration ID is provided (note: if posting a prospective study registered retrospectively, please provide a statement in the trial ID field explaining why the study was not registered in advance). Yes I have followed all appropriate research reporting guidelines and uploaded the relevant EQUATOR Network research reporting checklist(s) and other pertinent material as supplementary files, if applicable. Yes All data are available on GitHub.




Ganyani, T., Kremer, C., Chen, D., Torneri, A., Faes, C., Wallinga, J., & Hens, N. (2020). Estimating the generation interval for COVID-19 based on symptom onset data.

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