General Considerations, Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

College of Veterinary Medicine at Illinois

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General Guidelines

The live, sick animal typical of the problem early in the stages of disease, along with very recently dead animals are the submission samples of choice. The owner should deliver the animal directly to the Laboratory. If possible, more than one animal should be delivered. Cull or runt animal submissions are to be avoided as they may yield information that is misleading. Clients should be informed that live animals submitted to the laboratory cannot be returned to the farm.

The biggest handicap the Laboratory has to overcome is postmortem autolysis. It is extremely important that the animal be necropsied as soon after death as possible. Postmortem autolysis and putrefaction lessen the chance of establishing a diagnosis with each passing hour. If the carcass is small it should be refrigerated if possible. Do not enclose the carcass in a plastic bag until it is well chilled. The bag will hasten autolysis from entrapped body heat. If long delays are anticipated, the carcass should be frozen. Remember, however, freezing prohibits using tissues for histopathology and makes isolation of some pathogens impossible. Even better, necropsy the animal and send tissues rather than a frozen carcass.

Specimens that are properly collected and preserved are helpful in establishing a diagnosis when the animal cannot be presented to the Laboratory. Careful selection of specimens representative of the suspected disease process is critical. It is better to err by submitting excessive samples rather than an insufficient number.

When submitting specimens, mark each container clearly and legibly with both the owner’s name and veterinarian’s name. Often more than one case is submitted in a single mailing and samples can be mixed accidentally. The Laboratories handle dozens of cases per day and often the same name (veterinarian or client) may appear the same day but from different locations.

No one likes to fill out forms but we cannot function without them. Submit a complete, concise history form or letter with each animal or specimen delivered to the Laboratory. Give the Laboratory as much information as possible. No detail is insignificant. Be sure to indicate all treatments and vaccinations. Also list impressions or suspected causes of the problem. Be specific in your requests so that no test will be overlooked. Names and addresses that are illegible or incomplete may cause delays from postal services.

The best method of shipment to the Laboratory may be personal delivery by the owner or veterinarian. Specimens may also be submitted by bus, UPS, U.S. Mail, or by other delivery service. Avoid shipping packages with fresh tissues over the holidays and weekends. Laboratory people are present during these periods, but the delivery services may not get the samples to the Laboratory. Incubation in a mail room or shipping room does not enhance the chances of isolating a primary pathogen. We suggest that samples be addressed to the Laboratory rather than to an individual who may be away from the unit for various reasons and periods of time. This is not meant to discourage direct communication with members of the staff concerning cases or submissions. However, it does prevent unnecessary delays in processing samples when the addressee is away.

The United States Postal Service has stringent regulations pertaining to the shipment of biological products. Samples must be placed in a sealed, waterproof container. Primary containers are to be surrounded by absorbent material sufficient to take up all possible leakage. Primary containers then must be placed in sealed secondary containers. Screw – cap closures must be reinforced with tape. Used hypodermic needles are considered to be hazardous and must be treated as a biohazard. If you have questions concerning classifications of hazardous, restricted, or perishable matter, contact your local United States Postal Service. Restrictions among the courier services varies greatly. Most will provide a list of restrictions upon request.

There are several tests that are not performed routinely due to low demand. Samples received requesting such tests will automatically be forwarded to an appropriate laboratory for processing. We will attempt to refer samples to laboratories that are reliable, rapid, and as inexpensive as possible. If a test is not listed in this handbook please call to see if the test is available and, if not, where it will be sent. You may want to deal directly with the referral laboratory. A referral fee will be assessed to cover handling and shipping expenses in addition to the test charges (see Fee Schedule).

Please call on us for telephone assistance whenever you need information. You may have questions about interpreting test results or proper sampling to assist in disease investigations.

We welcome the opportunity to assist you.