Is there a test for the Delta variant?

There are two types of tests that can tell you if you are infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The two types are called viral tests (aka PCR tests) and antigen tests (aka rapid tests). These tests can tell you whether you have COVID or not, but they can't distinguish between the variants. They'll just tell you if you're sick.

In order to tell the difference between variants, scientists have to perform genomic sequencing. Each virus has a genome, which is basically a string of nucleic acids. Changes in these individual nucleic acids cause new variants. Genomic sequencing requires special equipment and trained scientists. So only specialized labs can run the tests needed to identify the variants. State health departments work with the CDC to regularly test a random subset of samples so that we know what variants are circulating.












Illustrations by Dr. Berth Hidalgo & Dr. Annicka Evans: 

How do I know if I have Delta?

Unfortunately, most of us don’t have access to a sequencing machine, so we can’t know which variant we have. However, the majority of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. currently are caused by the Delta variant. So if you’re sick right now, it’s likely you’ve got the Delta variant. 

But in the end, it doesn’t really matter which variant you have. You should still rest up and isolate yourself from others until your symptoms subside.

Last update: August 20, 2021, 6:05pm ET

Science review: MG, GSN