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Estimating the incubation period of hand, foot and mouth disease for children in different age groups.

Abstract

Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is a childhood disease causing large outbreaks frequently in Asia and occasionally in Europe and the US. The incubation period of HFMD was typically described as about 3-7 days but empirical evidence is lacking. In this study, we estimated the incubation period of HFMD from school outbreaks in Hong Kong, utilizing information on symptom onset and sick absence dates of students diagnosed with HFMD. A total of 99 HFMD cases from 12 schools were selected for analysis. We fitted parametric models accounting for interval censoring. Based on the best-fitted distributions, the estimated median incubation periods were 4.4 (95% CI 3.8-5.1) days, 4.7 (95% CI 4.5-5.1) days and 5.7 (95% CI 4.6-7.0) days for children in kindergartens, primary schools and secondary schools respectively. From the fitted distribution, the estimated incubation periods can be longer than 10 days for 8.8% and 23.2% of the HFMD cases in kindergarten and secondary schools respectively. Our results show that the incubation period of HFMD for secondary schools students can be longer than the ranges commonly described. An extended period of enhanced personal hygiene practice and disinfection of the environment may be needed to control outbreaks.

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