Lab is sentinel against emerging COVID-19 delta variant

Researchers at UW Medicine’s Virology Laboratory are closely tracking the statewide spread of the COVID-19 delta variant, which health experts say is more transmissible than other mutations of the virus.

As of June 14, the lab has detected 170 cases of the B.1.617.2 strain in samples from Washington state. The variant has caused waves of new cases in India, China, Sweden and the United Kingdom – and is now on the rise in the United States.

“It's something that we're really concerned about when we're watching those numbers over time,” said Dr. Pavitra Roychoudhury, acting instructor for the Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathology. The lab identifies strains of the virus through genome sequencing of positive screening tests. Essentially, the process identifies the strains present locally and across Washington state.

“What we are determining is the exact sequence of the approximately 30,000 letters that make up the genome of this virus, that have all the instructions for the little bits of the virus.”

The FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines provide the best available protection against the delta variant as well as all other mutations detected since the pandemic began, Roychoudhury said.

“The vaccines are very effective at preventing severe disease, regardless of which variant, when a person is infected. They are very effective at reducing the probability of developing very severe disease and being hospitalized with COVID,” she said.

UW Medicine