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Delta variant can be detected through genomic sequencing


Viral tests that are used to determine if a person has COVID-19 are not designed to tell you what variant is causing the infection.

The delta variant is the most dominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

As the highly transmissible strain spreads rapidly across the country, many people are wondering how they can tell if they have been infected with the delta variant. 

THE QUESTION

Is there a specific COVID-19 test for the delta variant?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

Yes, the delta variant can be detected through genomic sequencing, but that’s not the test you get at a clinic. 

WHAT WE FOUND

According to the CDC, there are two types of COVID-19 tests available that can test for current infection or past infection — a viral test and an antibody test.

“A viral test checks specimens from your nose or your mouth to find out if you are currently infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Viral tests can be performed in a laboratory, at a testing site, or at home, or anywhere else. Two types of viral tests are used: nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) and antigen tests,” said the CDC on its website. 

When it comes to detecting whether or not a person has the delta variant, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) says that information “may not be readily available.” 

“The viral tests that are used to determine if a person has COVID-19 are not designed to tell you what variant is causing the infection,” said Texas DSHS on its website. 

Texas DSHS says detecting the delta variant, and other variants of COVID-19 requires a special type of testing called “genomic sequencing,” however, due to the volume of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., sequencing is not performed on all viral samples. 

“Genomic sequencing allows scientists to identify SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19— and monitor how it changes over time into new variants, understand how these changes affect the characteristics of the virus, and use this information to better understand how it might impact health,” according to the CDC. 

Dr. Gabe Kelen, who serves as the director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, tells VERIFY the viral tests used by doctors or at pharmacies are typically generic. 

“They detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2, the viral infection. It doesn’t speciate it, meaning it doesn’t tell you which strain,” said Kelen. “Major labs, like ourselves, and the CDC, and most of the state health departments have the ability to actually sequence these samples.” 

According to Texas DSHS, because the delta variant now accounts for the majority of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., “there is a strong likelihood that a positive test result indicates infection with the delta variant.” 

Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, backs up Texas DSHS’s statement. 

“For all intents and purposes, if you’re infected with COVID-19 today in the United States, you can assume that it’s the delta variant because that is the dominant version of the virus that’s here,” Dr. Adalja told VERIFY. 

More from VERIFY: No, there is no evidence the delta variant is spreading rapidly at gas pumps

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