incubation period (of some common infections)

Last reviewed 03/2022

The incubation period of a disease refers to the time between contact with a carrier of the disease and development of symptoms. It does not refer to the time to infectivity, which in many instances is much shorter.

The incubation periods of infectious diseases is dealt with under the specific diseases. However, for ease of reference and for exam revision, the following summary details the diseases in the order of vaccination against them:

  • diphtheria, 1 to 7 days
  • tetanus, 24 hours to 24 days
  • pertussis, 7 to 14 days
  • polio, 7 to 14 days
  • measles, 8 to 14 days, with encephalitis 7 to 10 days after symptoms develop
  • mumps, 16 to 21 days
  • rubella, 14 to 21 days
  • chicken pox, 14 to 21 days, with a cerebellar encephalitis 3 to 4 days after symptoms develop
  • fifth disease, 6 to 14 days

The ranges represent the extremes of presentation.