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Am J Epidemiol. 2000 Aug 1;152(3):247-63.

Lifetime risks, incubation period, and serial interval of tuberculosis.

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Department of Infectious and Tropical Diseases, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, United Kingdom.


The lifetime risk of developing disease, the incubation period, and the time period between infection and transmission (the serial interval) are three important measures for interpreting trends in tuberculous infection and disease but are complicated by strong age dependencies regarding disease risk and by the potential for reinfection to occur. By using a model of the epidemiology of tuberculosis in England and Wales, the authors demonstrated that all three measures changed dramatically during the 20th century largely as a result of declines in the risk of infection. The estimated lifetime risk was highest following infection in early adulthood and declined with year of infection; the age-weighted average was approximately 12% during the last 50 years. Incubation period distributions depend on whether they are viewed prospectively (from infection to disease onset) or retrospectively (since infection for cases with disease onset at a particular time). As children rarely develop infectious forms of tuberculosis, infections acquired in childhood are associated with considerably longer serial intervals than those acquired in adulthood. These unusual properties are probably shared by other infections with long intervals between infection and disease. The results are important for interpreting data on transmission patterns, as are now being derived from molecular epidemiologic studies.

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