Difference Between Incubation Period and Communicable Period

Both the incubation period and the communicable period are terms used in epidemiology to describe stages at which an infectious illness can be spread from person to person. The transmission of illnesses is greatly impacted by these intervals, which vary from person to person. Professionals in the fields of health and governance take note of these times to ensure the public's wellbeing. Accurate information of these times is necessary for determining how long a person who has been exposed needs to remain in quarantine.

What is Incubation Period?

The Latin word "incubatio," meaning "brooding," is the source of our English term "incubation." The time needed for a certain developmental phase to take place is referred to as the incubation period in biology. It's the time it takes, for instance, for chicken eggs to hatch.

Time between exposure to a pathogen (biological agent that can cause disease) to the onset of those symptoms is referred to in medicine as the incubation period. Duration might range from a few hours to months or even years (i.e. rabies). For instance, doctors would track the time it takes for a patient to develop symptoms after contracting a virus.

Although symptoms are not present now, pathogenic alterations may be discovered by certain laboratory tests during this stage. As an example, even asymptomatic people who have come into contact with patients sick with Corona virus illness 2019 (COVID-19) are being tested for the virus.

The usual incubation time for COVID-19 is 5 to 6 days, as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO). To be sure, it may take up to 14 days (2020). Therefore, a 14-day quarantine period is needed.

What is Communicable Period?

The Latin root of "communicable" is communicare, which means "to share." The infectious period, or communicable period, is the time frame during which an infectious agent can be spread from an affected person or animal to others. The transmission might be direct (through an object), or it could be indirect (by physical touch) (e.g. droplets in the air).

COVID-19, for instance, can be spread from infected to uninfected people by respiratory droplets, direct physical contact, or touching contaminated surfaces. So far, there has been no confirmed instance of transmission without any accompanying symptoms. But it doesn't mean it can't happen; the possibility still stands (WHO, 2020).

Differences: Incubation Period and Communicable Period

The following table highlights the major differences between Incubation Period and Communicable Period −


Incubation Period

Communicable Period


"Incubation" came from the Latin word "incubatio" which means "brooding".

"communicable" came from the Latin word "communicare" which means "to share".


In biology, incubation period is the time required for a certain developmental process to occur.

In medicine, incubation period refers to the time from the moment of exposure to a pathogen until when the first symptoms of a certain illness appear.

Communicable period refers to the time when an infectious agent may be transferred from an infected person or animal to others; this is when the disease is said to be contagious.


According to WHO (2020), the incubation period for COVID-19 is 5 to 6 days on average. However, it can be up to 14 days.

Regarding its communicable period, it may be transmitted from both symptomatic and pre-symptomatic individuals. Hence, the prescribed quarantine duration is 14 days.


A disease's incubation period begins at the time of exposure to a pathogen and ends when symptoms first manifest, whereas a disease's communicable period is the time during which it may be passed from one person to another.

Updated on: 26-Apr-2023


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