An image shared on Facebook over 800 times claims there is no test for the Delta variant.
Although the viral tests used to diagnose individuals with COVID-19 cannot determine which variant is causing the infection, scientists can detect and identify variants through genomic sequencing.
The highly contagious Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, was first detected in India in late 2020, according to Yale Medicine. It has since spread to other countries, causing some to reinstate restrictions and mask-wearing requirements, The New York Times reported.
A meme widely shared online alleges there is “no ‘Delta variant’ test” and questions how people “are being diagnosed” with it. While the viral tests that are “used to determine if a person has COVID-19” cannot, according to Texas Health and Human Services, determine what variant an infected person has, scientists can detect and identify variants using a different process. That process is called genomic sequencing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Scientists use a process called genomic sequencing to decode the genes and learn more about the virus,” the CDC website explains. “Genomic sequencing allows scientists to identify SARS-CoV-2 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.”
The CDC website states the agency tracks variants via genomic surveillance through several methods, including the National SARS-CoV-2 Strain Surveillance system. The National SARS-CoV-2 Strain Surveillance system “was scaled-up to process 750 samples per week” in late January, according to the CDC.
CDC public affairs specialist Jade Fulce told Check Your Fact in an email: “Currently, all viral diagnostic tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are able to detect every variant of the virus; however, these tests will not be able to tell you which specific variant you (or a patient) might have.”
“To tell which variant might be present in a specimen, scientists must perform genomic sequencing on that specimen,” Fulce said. “At this time, sequencing is available for surveillance purposes only, not for individual diagnostic purposes.” (RELATED: No, The COVID-19 Delta Variant Is Not Fake)
Genomic sequencing efforts are “designed to identify emerging variants, monitor the spread of these variants, and determine if they might change the effectiveness of testing, treatment, or vaccines,” Fulce also explained.
SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses change over time through mutation, according to the CDC. The World Health Organization explains on its website that “some changes may affect the virus’s properties” such as making variants become more transmissible or cause more severe illness than the original strain.
Several variants of SARS-CoV-2, including the Delta variant, are currently being documented in the U.S. Over 93 percent of U.S. COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks of July were from the Delta variant and its sub-lineages, according to CDC proportion estimates.