How the Wisconsin state lab tests for the Delta variant

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 6:39 PM CDT
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - The Delta variant is spreading across Wisconsin and the nation.

However, testing positive for COVID-19 doesn’t mean someone has the Delta strain.

The Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene tests for variants.

Dr. Kelsey Florek, a lab Senior Genomics and Data Scientist, said determining the variant starts with a normal COVID-19 test. If the result comes back positive, scientists use the same sample to sequence the virus’ blueprint.

“The virus is made up of structural proteins that hold everything together and internally it creates a blueprint that allows a virus to create copies of itself,” she said.

Florek said she looks for potential changes in the blueprint over time.

“When we see multiple changes on that blueprint from previous ones that we’ve looked at, we can then identify if that’s a new variant, something we haven’t seen before, or if it can be classified into one of these categories like Alpha, Beta, Gamma or Delta,” she said.

Though Florek doesn’t see patients, she said the Delta variant is keeping her up at night.

“Delta has mutations in that blueprint that affects the structure of the virus,” Florek said. “And it allows that virus to more easily get into humans and get into their cells and allows it to replicate easier.”

With a recent jump in the number of COVID-19 cases in the Chippewa Valley, HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital Infection Prevention Manager Sue Galoff fears her hospital’s beds may fill up again soon with virus patients.

“Hospitalization really truly is a lagging indicator so it usually comes after, you know, an initially uptick in cases,” she said. “So what we may see and what we are watching for is that there may be an increase in the next few weeks.”

Both Galoff and Florek said the best way to protect yourself against the Delta variant is getting vaccinated.

“I don’t want a repeat last year,” Florek said.

She said while the lab test determining the virus’ strain is not FDA approved so results aren’t shared with patients.

She added it does work and its used across the country. Its results do not impact patient care.

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