Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory

Laboratory Users Guide



    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/tube clearly and legibly with the animal ID, 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 assistance whenever you need information. You may have questions about interpreting test results or proper sampling to aid in disease investigations. We welcome the opportunity to assist you.

  • Diagnostic Specimens are listed under Hazardous Materials and are listed in the DOT Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR; 49 CFR Parts 171-180) and will be subject to the rules summarized here.

    These rules apply both to samples that are considered potentially infectious and samples that are not considered infectious. These are rules set forth by the DOT; specific couriers including the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), FedEx, and UPS may have more stringent requirements. This document is only a summary. A guide to the changes is provided by the DOT and should be examined to ensure accurate interpretation at: US Dept of Transportation: Transporting Infectious Substances Safely: or the regulations may be reviewed by searching the Code of Federal Regulations database  for HMR 49 CRF. I.

    Definition of Diagnostic Specimen: A Diagnostic Specimen is “any human or animal material, including excreta, secreta, blood and its components, tissue, and tissue fluids being transported for diagnostic or investigational purposes, but excluding live infected animals.”

    Note: Plates or cultures of bacterial or viral organisms are NOT included in the definition of ‘Diagnostic Specimen’ and may only be shipped under much more stringent requirements and regulations.

    Note: Specimens from suspected cases of foreign animal diseases (FADs), reportable diseases, and other very highly infectious and virulent diseases do not fall within these guidelines. Contact your State Veterinarian or the Federal Veterinarian-in-charge if an FAD is suspected.

    II. Packaging Required for shipment of Diagnostic Specimens: Unless diagnostic specimens are transported by ‘ground based private or contract carriers using dedicated vehicles’, these materials must conform to the standards listed below. Note: These are federal regulations and APPLY to FedEx and other commercial shipping companies. The stringent parcel size limitation in the section “Shipments by Air of Diagnostic Specimens” below is important for any company that routinely ships by air. Ask your carrier for details on their shipping requirements for diagnostic specimens. -The USPS has additional regulations that may be found at or at (United States Postal Service: Domestic Mail Manual, section 10.17). A. Diagnostic specimens must be packaged in triple packaging consisting of:

    1. A primary receptacle: Primary receptacles must be packaged in such a way that under normal conditions of transport, they cannot break, be punctured, or leak their contents into the secondary packaging.

    2. Leak-proof secondary packaging: Secondary packaging(s) must be secured in outer packaging(s) with suitable cushioning material such that any leakage of the contents will not impair the protective properties of the cushioning material or outer packaging. If several fragile primary receptacles are placed in a single secondary packaging, they must be individually wrapped or separated to prevent contact between them.

    3. Outer packaging: -Outer packing must be clearly and durably marked with the words “Biological Specimen, Category B”, and ‘UN3373’ if the contents include diagnostic specimens that may contain any pathogenic organism that may cause disease in humans or animals. In addition, a name and number of a contact person must be provided on the outer packaging or on a written document such as an air waybill. If the specimen has minimal or no chance of containing a pathogen, or if potential pathogens have been inactivated (e.g. formalin-fixed), then the outer packaging may be marked with ‘Exempt animal specimen’. – The completed package must be capable of passing the drop test at a drop height of at least 1.2 meters (3.9 feet).

    4. Liquid Diagnostic Specimens must be also packaged where: -Primary receptacle is leak-proof with a volumetric capacity of not more than 500 ml (16.9 ounces). -Absorbent material of sufficient quantity to absorb the entire contents of the primary receptacle(s) is placed between the primary receptacle and secondary packaging. -Multiple fragile primary receptacles placed in a single secondary package must be individually wrapped or separated as to prevent contact between them.

    5. Shipments by air of Diagnostic Specimens additionally require that: -The primary receptacle or the secondary container is capable of withstanding without leakage an internal pressure difference of 95 kPa (14 psi). -The outer packaging does not exceed 4 L (1 gallon) capacity. Note: This volume limitation does not apply to parcels containing animal body parts, whole organs, or whole bodies even if known to contain an “infectious substance”. However, the outer package must be labeled to indicate that the “contents are subject to special provision 49 CFR A82”.

    III. Training requirements: Although no specific training is required, persons preparing or transporting diagnostic specimens must know about and apply the requirements of Sec 173.199 (49 CFR) (summarized above).

    IV. Fines and penalties: According to 49 CFR Sec. 171.1 (g) “Any person who knowingly violates a requirement of the Federal hazardous material transport law… is liable for a civil penalty of not more than… $32,500… and not less than $275 for each violation… (and) shall be fined under Title 18, United States code, or imprisoned for not more than 5 years, or both.”

  • Reportable Illinois Diseases

    Reportable Federal Diseases

    1. Suspected cases of any contagious or infectious disease shall be reported immediately to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, telephone 217/782-4944.

    2. Any herd owner, flock owner, veterinarian or other person having knowledge of the disease, failing to report a suspect case of the disease immediately after discovery, or who is responsible for the spread of the disease, shall be subject to penalty as provided by law.

  • Brains from livestock and cervids and heads or brains from small animals suspected of having rabies can be sent through the mail or other couriers to the University of Illinois Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for rabies testing. However, in addition, cases of human exposure or strong clinical evidence of rabies can be sent to the three Illinois public health laboratories:

    Carbondale Laboratory Illinois Department of Public Health

    Oakland and Chautauqua Streets
    P. O. Box 2797
    Carbondale, Illinois 62901
    Phone: 618-457-5131

    Chicago Laboratory Illinois Department of Public Health

    2121 West Taylor
    Chicago, Illinois 60612
    Phone: 312-793-4746

    Springfield Laboratory Illinois Department of Public Health

    825 North Rutledge
    P.O. Box 19435
    Springfield, Illinois 62794-9435
    Phone: 217-782-6562
    Division Chief: 217-467-7072

    The After Hours Emergency Phone Number for the Public Health Laboratories Listed Above is 1-800-782-7860

    Place the specimen in a sealed, watertight container. Use of a heavy gauge plastic bag is acceptable as long as it is triple bagged. The container should be placed in sufficient ice to maintain a temperature of 35 degrees Fahrenheit. The specimen should be surrounded by adequate absorbent material should there be leakage. Make sure a completed Suspect Rabies Specimen Case History form accompanies the specimen.

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