Proper Packaging and Shipping of Rabies Specimens

Proper Packaging and Shipping of Rabies Specimens

August 25, 2017 – By Michael Stevenson and Vonnita Barton

On several occasions, Idaho Bureau of Laboratories (IBL), the only laboratory in Idaho to test animals for rabies, has received improper-ly packaged heads or carcasses for rabies testing. In fact, there have been isolated incidents of blood leaking out of wrapped samples in the shipping box. The Department of Transportation (DOT) can issue penalties including fines to submitters who improperly package and ship such sample types. Awareness and training is necessary for veterinarians and other clients submitting these sample types to IBL.

BACKGROUND: See to learn more about rabies in Idaho. Any bat, carnivorous, or wild terrestrial mam-mal that has bitten or presents an exposure risk to a human or domestic animal should be considered for rabies testing. In situations where the exposure is uncertain (e.g., a dead bat in backyard where dogs/cats are present), the animal or carcass should be carefully collected to minimize further exposure and public health officials should be consulted. Healthy pet dogs, cats, and ferrets that have bitten a human or other domestic animal should be isolated for a 10-day post-bite observation peri-od, regardless of their rabies vaccination status. Euthanasia and rabies testing should be considered only if the animal is ex-hibiting neurological signs or has severe aggression that makes the animal too dangerous to handle.

CONSULTATION: Contact your local Public Health District (PHD) epidemiology department or the State Public Health Veterinari-an/state level epidemiologist with questions about exposure risk, animal management, sample submissions, and rabies pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis. All rabies testing at IBL requires pre-approval from the PHD or state-level epidemiologist.

SPECIMEN PREPARATION: For bats, the entire carcass should be sent to IBL for rabies testing. For dogs, cats, skunks, rac-coons and similarly sized animals, the head must be removed before submitting to IBL. Ideally only the brain should be sub-mitted if the extraction can be safely conducted by a veterinary practice. For livestock and other large animals, contact the Idaho Department of Agriculture (208-332-8570) for information on brain removal for rabies testing. To reduce exposure to rabies virus during specimen preparation, removal of heads or brains must be done by persons with proper training, adequate personal protective equipment, and pre-exposure rabies vaccination. Specimens should be refrigerated until shipped to IBL; do not freeze or place the specimen in a preservative such as formalin.

SPECIMEN SHIPMENT: Specimens should be double-bagged with absorbent material, placed in a Styrofoam container with cold packs (do not use dry ice or wet ice) and then placed in an outer rigid shipping container. It is the responsibility of the submitter to ensure that no leakage occurs. Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations require a biohazard symbol (shown below) to be present on the internal sample packaging. If the sample is sent via FedEx or U.S. Postal Service, DOT requires the sample to be shipped as a Category B diagnostic specimen. A Category B package must be tripled packed as above and properly marked with a UN3373 label. All rabies specimens must be submitted with a completed Rabies Test Re-quest Form. This form and guidance on packaging and shipping Category B samples is available at the bottom of the Clinical Testing tab on the IBL website ( Please notify IBL (208-334-0593) for any questions related to rabies testing and for sample shipment notification.

Ship to: Idaho Bureau of Laboratories, attn Rabies Laboratory
2220 Old Penitentiary Rd Boise, ID 83712

State Public Health Veterinarian: Dr. Leslie Tengelsen or state-level epidemiologist – 208-334-5939