The Impact of Uncertainty in the AIDS Incubation Period on Reconstructions of the HIV Epidemic


Complete text of this article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 90, 2194-2196, 1993.


Backcalculation is the primary method used to reconstruct past human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection rates, to estimate current prevalence of HIV infection, and to project future incidence of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). The method is very sensitive to uncertainty about the incubation period. We estimate incubation distributions from three sets of cohort data and find that the estimates for the cohorts are substantially different. Backcalculations employing the different estimates produce equally good fits to reported AIDS counts but quite different estimates of cumulative infections. These results suggest that the incubation distribution is likely to differ for different populations and that the differences are large enough to have a big impact on the resulting estimates of HIV infection rates. This seriously limits the usefulness of backcalculation for populations (such as intravenous drug users, heterosexuals, and women) that lack precise information on incubation times.

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