Shipping of Samples for Rabies Testing
The following information is intended for use by veterinary personnel (veterinarians and technicians) who may be required to ship samples from deceased animals for rabies testing as part of their professional duties. Other individuals should not attempt these procedures.
For more information about rabies and rabies sample collection and submission related to domestic animal exposure in Ontario, please contact the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The transportation of animal specimens and other biological substances is governed by Transport Canada under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods (TDG) Regulations. Any individual offering for transport specimens for rabies testing, is required to have a TDG certification. After completing the appropriate training, an individual’s employer (which may be oneself for veterinarians who are practice owners) can provided a certificate of training which is valid for 3 years from the date of issue. Certification based on the following material would be limited to offering for ground or air transport animal specimens for rabies testing, based on one’s understanding of the following components as they relate to such specimens.
- Any animal specimen believed to contain rabies virus is classified as an infectious substance, class 6.2 dangerous goods. This includes any sample from an animal exhibiting neurological signs consistent with rabies. Class 6.2 has two categories: A and B. Although rabies virus is considered a Category A pathogen, it may be transported as Category B so long as it is not in the form of a culture (subsection 2.36(2) of the TDG Regulations). The shipping name for these samples is “Biological Substance, Category B”.
- If there is no particular reason to believe that an animal specimen contains rabies virus, but it is being submitted for testing as a precaution (i.e. to confirm that it is negative), then it falls under an exemption (section 1.42 of the TDG Regulation) and offered for transport using the shipping name “Exempt Animal Specimen”. In practice, the primary difference in offering for transport a sample as an Infectious Substance, Category B versus an Exempt Animal Specimen is in the package labeling (see below).
- Professional judgement is required to determine if a sample must be shipped as an Infectious Substance, Category B or if it can be shipped as an Exempt Animal Specimen. Factors such as the animal species, known medical history, travel history, clinical signs and local rabies epidemiology should be considered. Generally, in the case of samples from animals being shipped for rabies testing, if the animal was exhibiting any abnormal behaviour or other neurological signs within the last 10 days it should be transported as an Infectious Substance, Category B (e.g. an overly-aggressive skunk or an ataxic raccoon). In the absence of abnormal behaviour (e.g. an injured cat or dog that bit a person in defence but succumbed prior to the end of the 10 day observation period), the sample can be transported as an Exempt Animal Specimen.
- Due to the known low prevalence of rabies in bats in Ontario and the difficulty of assessing “normal” behaviour of bats when trapped in an enclosed space, all bats samples are transported as Exempt Animal Specimens.
The shipping name MUST appear in letters at least 6 mm high on the shipping label of the package for any animal sample being offered for transport, along with certain other information as indicated below.
- Biological Substance, Category B: This must appear next to the dangerous goods safety mark (see below) and a 24-hour telephone number (labeled as such) of a person who can provide technical information on the dangerous good (e.g. that it is an animal specimen from a rabies suspect) without breaking the telephone connection made by the caller (subsection 3.5(1)(f) of the TDG regulation). In addition the shipping label must include the name, address and phone number of both the shipper AND receiver. The package must also be labelled with “TC-125-1B” to identify it as a Type 1B means of containment (see Figure 1 below).
- Exempt Animal Specimen: Must appear along with the name address and phone number of both the shipper AND receiver, however the dangerous goods safety mark and 24-hour telephone number are NOT required.
Figure 1: Scaled example of a shipping label for an animal specimen being offered for transport as a Biological Substance, Category B.
- The outer packaging for any animal specimen believed to contain rabies virus (transported as Biological Substance, Category B) must be marked with the UN3373 diamond in contrasting colours (e.g. black on white). The numbers and letters must be at least 6 mm high, and the diamond (square on point) must be at least 5 cm X 5 cm using a line at least 2 mm wide. The shipping name and 24-hour telephone number must appear next to the UN3373 diamond (see above).
- If you ship a known or suspected infectious substance without the proper labelling or documentation, you could be fined up to $100 000 or sentenced to 2 years in prison.
Any sample being offered for transport as a Biological Substance, Category B must be packaged in a Type 1B or Type 1A means of containment. Exempt Animal Specimens may be packaged in a Type 1B or Type 1C means of containment. Generally, it is recommended that all samples for rabies testing be shipped in Type 1B packaging, which includes the following components:
- Water-tight primary packaging: In the case of samples for rabies testing, the primary packing includes at least two layers. If small enough, the sample can be placed in a clear, leak-proof container such as a urine cup; otherwise the sample must be placed in a relatively thick, clear plastic bag. The bag must be securely sealed, either with a double knot (if the bag is very large) or by folding over the opening at least twice and taping with moisture-resistant tape (i.e. duct tape). The urine cup or sealed bag is then placed in a second thick clear plastic bag, which is sealed in the same manner. Reclosable “zipper” bags must still be folded over and tapped to ensure an adequate seal, as the zipper alone is not sufficiently reliable. This completes the primary packaging.
- NOTE: For samples shipped to the CFIA labs for rabies testing, the Sample ID (which must match the Sample ID on the lab submission form) goes on the outside of the primary packaging.
- Absorbent material: The primary packaging is then wrapped in absorbent material. This provides cushioning for the sample, an additional protective barrier should the primary package leak, and some added insulation. The most readily available and appropriate absorbent material is newspaper or plain brown packing paper. Do NOT use any type of particulate packing material (e.g. foam peanuts, vermiculite) or non-absorbent packing material (e.g. plastic bubble wrap or air cushions)
- Water-tight secondary packaging: The primary packaging, wrapped in absorbent material, is then placed into a third thick clear plastic bag, which is sealed in the same manner as the primary packaging (see above).
- NOTE: For samples shipped to the CFIA labs for rabies testing, a printed copy of the completed and electronically submitted lab submission form (RSTS form) is placed in its own sealed plastic bag, which is then taped to the outside of the secondary packaging.
- Outer packaging: The most common and appropriate outer packaging is a strong, sturdy cardboard box that will not burst or deform with routine handling and foreseeable wear-and-tear in transit. The box should be lined with additional absorbent material (i.e. paper) to cushion and insulate the secondary packaging. The outer packaging is then securely sealed with tape and the appropriate shipping label attached (see above).
- NOTE: For samples shipped to the CFIA labs for rabies testing, it is typically necessary to include cold packs to help preserve the sample, especially during hot weather. One to two small solid ice packs are generally adequate for overnight shipping of most samples. If shipping will take longer (i.e. from a remote area) or if the weather is extremely hot, additional ice packs may be needed. Do not use soft gel packs as these are more likely to leak; this is particularly important for samples being shipped by air. Solid cold packs should be placed immediately around the secondary packaging, so that the additional absorbent material lining the box helps to insulate the sample to keep it cool. See specimen collection for information regarding freezing vs refrigeration of samples prior to shipping.
For samples being shipped by air as Biological Substance, Category B, at least ONE of the bags used to package the sample (either the second bag of the primary packaging or the secondary packaging) must be able to withstand a 95 kPa pressure test. This is to protect against rupture and leakage if the package is subject to substantial pressure changes in transit. Furthermore, the box used must be able to withstand a 1.2 m drop test, and must have at least one side that is a minimum of 10 cm x 10 cm.
- Shipping by air may be required for sample from west of and including Thunder Bay going to the Lethbridge, AB lab.
- NOTE: Transportation of any sample shipped as Biological Substance, Category B on board a passenger aircraft is strictly prohibited.
If multiple samples are being shipped from the same location on the same day, it is possible to send them in the same package. The primary packaging must be completed for each sample as described above; it is critical to remember to put a unique Sample ID on the outside of each one. Each primary package is then wrapped in absorbent material, and they can then all be placed the same bag as the secondary packaging. A printed copy of the lab submission form for each sample is then placed in the sealed bag on the outside of the secondary packaging (i.e. 2 bats require 2 submission forms, even if they are from the same premises). Alternatively, each sample may be given its own primary and secondary packaging, and then they can all be placed in the same outer packaging (box).
It is important to note that use of schedules, TDG shipping documents, emergency response assistance plan (ERAP), additional handling and transportation (including use of equipment), emergency measures and marine transport are not necessary for any samples being shipped for rabies testing within Canada, and therefore training in these areas is not required for this limited TDG certification.
Video demonstrating sample packaging for a bat: http://youtu.be/tfmFafIj29c
Fillable training document and TDG training certificate (link)