Delta variant: How do I get tested for it?

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The highly contagious delta variant of COVID-19 is behind the vast majority of new cases in the United States, and the country is logging over 100,000 infections daily. But how can patients find out if they’ve contracted the delta variant?

Several hospitals and labs told Fox News that, in most cases, patients will learn whether they’ve tested positive for COVID-19, not whether they’ve specifically contracted the delta variant.

Heba Mostafa, Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University, told Fox News that in order to identify a variant, labs extract viral RNA to undergo sequencing. Researchers then analyze data to determine the variant.

“Variant information is linked to the sample and the data is communicated with the respective lab; the whole process can take up to four days,” Mostafa said.

The delta variant has become the most common strain of SARS-CoV-2 in the United States, causing cases and hospitalizations among the unvaccinated to rise.

In a statement from Quest Diagnostics, the company noted interest from patients and physicians for sequencing, but Quest isn’t offering the information as a clinical test. Instead, the company sequences samples and reports the data to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a HIPAA-compliant way. 

Quest said it doesn’t notify patients or providers upon detecting a variant, reasoning, “Based on standard of care, the viral genetic data does not have implications for clinical management of the patient — their treatment and isolation don’t depend on the particular viral lineage.”

Others, such as LabCorp, follow similar protocol; Labcorp in a statement said that their “current sequencing efforts are focused on aiding the CDC in its surveillance efforts, with SARS-CoV-2 positive samples submitted for sequencing pursuant to CDC criteria. At this time, physicians and patients cannot request sequencing.”

The Texas Health and Human Services explained that such “information may not be readily available, adding, “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. Detecting the delta variant, or other variants, requires a special type of testing called genomic sequencing. Due to the volume of COVID-19 cases, sequencing is not performed on all viral samples. However, because the delta variant now accounts for the majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States, there is a strong likelihood that a positive test result indicates infection with the delta variant.”

Jacques Ravel, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology and associate director of the Institute of Genome Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, told Fox News, “[P]atients cannot request that their samples be sequenced at this point, nor are doctors informed of the sequencing results. That’s because patients wouldn’t be treated differently based on the infecting variant.”

Ravel said the University of Maryland reports sequencing to the state, noting that the sequencing is performed to help Maryland’s surveillance of different variants of COVID-19. The goal set by the University of Maryland is to sequence 10% of all positive tests, but the school exceeded the goal by sequencing 15% to 30% of all positive tests on a weekly basis since April, according to Ravel.

Fox News’ Kayla Rivas contributed to this report.

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