How Long Is the Incubation Period for the Coronavirus?

A coronavirus is a type of virus that can cause respiratory illness in humans and animals. In 2019, a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2 emerged in Wuhan, China, and quickly spread around the world.

An infection with the new coronavirus causes a respiratory disease called COVID-19.

As with most viruses, the incubation period of SARS-CoV-2 can vary from person to person. Read on to learn more about how long it may take for symptoms to develop and what to do if you think you have COVID-19.

What to know about the incubation period

An incubation period is the time between when you contract a virus and when your symptoms start.

Currently, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, the incubation period for the novel coronavirus is somewhere between 2 to 14 days after exposure.

According to a recent reportTrusted Source, more than 97 percent of people who contract SARS-CoV-2 show symptoms within 11.5 days of exposure. The average incubation period seems to be around 5 days. However, this estimate may change as we learn more about the virus.

For many people, COVID-19 symptoms start as mild symptoms and gradually get worse over a few days.

How is the virus transmitted?

SARS-CoV-2 spreads mostly from person to person through close contact or from droplets that are scattered when a person with the virus sneezes or coughs.

The novel coronavirus is highly contagious, which means it spreads easily from person to person. According to the CDCTrusted Source, people who have the virus are most contagious when they’re showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Although it’s much less common, there’s a possibility that someone who is infected with the coronavirus can transmit the virus even if they’re not showing symptoms.

It’s also possible that the virus can be transmitted via touching virus-contaminated surfaces and then touching your mouth or nose. However, this isn’t the main way the novel coronavirus spreads.

How to protect yourself

The best way to prevent yourself from contracting the novel coronavirus is to wash your hands often.

Use soap and water and wash for at least 20 seconds. If you don’t have soap and water, you can also use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.

Other ways to protect yourself include the following:
  • Stay at least 6 feet away from anyone who seems sick, and avoid large groups of people.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Don’t share personal items with others. This includes things like drinking glasses, utensils, toothbrushes, and lip balm.
  • Wipe down high-touch surfaces like doorknobs, keyboards, and stair rails in your home with household cleaners or a diluted bleach solution.
  • Wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer after touching surfaces like elevator or ATM buttons, gas pump handles, and grocery carts.
  • Stay home and call your doctor if you start having respiratory issues and think your symptoms are consistent with those of COVID-19.

What are the other types of coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a certain type of virus that causes respiratory illnesses in animals and humans. Corona means “crown,” and the viruses are named for the proteins on the outside of the viruses that look like crowns.

SARS-CoV-2 is the newest type of coronavirus that’s been discovered. The source of this virus is suspected to be animals in an open-air market in China. It’s still unclear what kind of animal was the source of the virus.

Coronaviruses can cause respiratory illnesses that range from a mild cold to pneumonia. In fact, most people get some sort of coronavirus infection at some point in their lives.

Other types of coronaviruses include:

  • SARS-CoV, which causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The incubation period for SARS is usually 2 to 7 daysTrusted Source, but it can be up to 10 days in some people.
  • MERS-CoV, which causes Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). The incubation period for MERS-CoV is between 2 and 14 daysTrusted Source, with 5 to 6 days being average.

The bottom line

Most people who develop COVID-19 start noticing symptoms within 2 to 14 days after being exposed to the novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. On average, it takes about 5 days to develop symptoms, but this may change as we learn more about the virus.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your doctor for advice. Until you know what type of illness you have, stay home, and avoid contact with other people.


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