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Guidelines for Packaging and Transport of Animal Rabies Specimens to the
Public Health and Environmental Laboratories (PHEL)
Rabies testing of animal specimens is available through the New Jersey Department of Health
Public Health and Environmental Laboratories (PHEL)
Specimens that are accepted for testing include domestic and wild animals which are suspected
of having rabies and/or have an unknown rabies risk and have come into physical contact with
people or animals.
SPECIMENS SHOULD NOT BE SENT TO PHEL WITHOUT FIRST CONSULTING WITH THE LOCAL
HEALTH DEPARTMENT (LHD) WHERE THE INCIDENT OCCURRED. A map of LHDs is posted
online at www.localhealth.nj.gov, with directories including daytime and after-hours numbers.
Animals infected with the rabies virus may display signs and symptoms including aggression or
other changes in behavior, and signs of neurologic impairment such as vocalizing, circling,
paralysis, etc. For additional information on Rabies, including the definition of an exposure and
what to do in case of an exposure, see here: https://www.nj.gov/health/cd/topics/rabies.shtml
I. PREPARATION AND PACKAGING SPECIMENS FOR SUBMISSION
1. Except for bats, ONLY THE HEAD OR BRAIN OF THE ANIMAL will be accepted for testing.
This applies to all animals regardless of size.
a. Note: Once testing is completed, all specimens are incinerated. Specimen
remains cannot be returned to veterinarians or animal owners at this point
under any circumstances.
2. Livestock heads are not accepted by the NJDOH. They must be coordinated and
submitted to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture Animal Diagnostics Lab
3. Spray insecticide on specimens which are heavily infested with ticks and fleas, as these
are a hazard for the analyst during sample processing. DO NOT USE flea or tick spray
4. Deer will only be accepted if the antlers have been removed.
Revised: September 20, 2022 1
5. Live Bats will no longer be accepted starting JANUARY 1st 2023.
6. If sending live bats prior to January 1st, 2023, live bats must be packaged in an ESCAPE-
a. e.g. coffee can with tight fitting lid and holes for air
b. nothing larger than a 1-gallon paint can and no cardboard boxes)
c. Container must be clearly labeled "CAUTION - LIVE BAT" or "BAT DEAD"
d. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD A BAT, DEAD OR ALIVE, BE WRAPPED IN
ANYTHING THAT COULD HINDER ACCESS TO IT (A CLOTH TOWEL, DARK PACKING
MATERIAL ARE UNACCEPTABLE).
7. THE SPECIMEN SHOULD NOT BE FROZEN, as freezing delays the test process.
a. Keep specimen refrigerated (2-8C) prior to transport
b. Frozen specimens can be tested, but freezing increases the probability that the
sample will be unsatisfactory for testing.
c. If samples are accidentally frozen, keep them frozen until delivery.
8. If the specimen is not being transported immediately, refrigerate it, and then package as
directed below before transport.
a. Specimens that will be in transit for more than 12 hours should be placed in an
b. Improper storage/packaging may lead to decomposition of the brain. Once the
brain is decomposed, the specimen will be reported as "unsatisfactory."
9. Package specimens for shipment as follows:
a. The specimen should be placed in a watertight primary container, such as a
heavy plastic bag that is tightly secured and double-bagged or a non-breakable
container (i.e. NOT GLASS) with a tight-fitting lid
b. The primary container MUST PREVENT FLUID LEAKAGE
c. Place the primary container in a larger, waterproof, non-breakable transport
container such as a styrofoam cooler, insulated shipping container, or box
d. Pack the space between the two containers/bags full of coolant packs
i. DO NOT USE DRY ICE OR ICE IN BAGS.
e. If a cardboard box is the only option for the exterior transport container, ensure
the specimen is leak proof and the coolant packs are placed in a separate
secured plastic bag.
f. The specimen must be in a separate container from the coolant packs.
g. If the specimen will be in transit for more than 12 hours, be sure to use an
h. TO AVOID DELAYS, ENSURE THAT SPECIMENS ARE PACKAGED PROPERLY.
Note: Couriers are instructed not to pick up specimens that are leaking or otherwise
Revised: September 20, 2022 2
10. If individuals are exposed to fluid, such as leakage from an animal head, or a splash or
cut during specimen preparation and packaging, they should IMMEDIATELY WASH THE
EXPOSED AREA THOROUGHLY WITH SOAP AND WATER.
a. The name and telephone number of the exposed individual(s) should be added
to the VIR-16 form, along with the type of exposure that occurred.
11. The Rabies Examination Request Form must be completed and placed in an envelope or
plastic sleeve accompanying the specimen.
a. If a specimen is entered using PHEL's Online Ordering and Reporting Portal, the
PDF requisition form which pops up upon saving the online order must be
printed and enclosed.
b. If a submitter does not have access to order via the Online Ordering and
Reporting Portal, a copy of the VIR-16 form may be found here
c. The envelope must be securely attached to the outside of the transport
container, or placed inside of the transport container
i. Do not place paperwork inside the primary container containing the
d. If the envelope is placed inside the transport container, the VIR-16 form should
be in a plastic bag that is SEPARATE FROM ANY COOLANT PACKS, to prevent it
from becoming wet and illegible.
e. Specimens received without paperwork will be rejected for testing
II. TRANSPORTATION OF SPECIMENS TO THE LABORATORY
1. It is the duty of the LHD to ensure that specimens are packaged properly and submitted
to the laboratory on a timely basis.
a. Specimens need to be delivered to the PHEL by 1:00 PM Thursday to ensure that
testing is completed by Friday.
b. If possible, animals should not be euthanized until prompt delivery has been
arranged, so that rabies observation can continue if transport and testing cannot
be performed in a timely manner (if the animal's health improves, testing may
not be necessary).
2. Address specimens to:
New Jersey Public Health and Environmental Laboratories (PHEL)
New Jersey State Police Headquarters
3 Schwarzkopf Drive
Ewing, NJ 08628
a. Do not address rabies specimens to specific individuals.
b. If Shipping: Use UPS or FedEX only. Rabies samples are viewed as Class B
Revised: September 20, 2022 3
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