A Veterinary Administrator's Guide to Sending Specimens to the Massachusetts State Laboratory using a Local Medical Specimen Courier

By Tony Murphy | Share this blog
A Veterinary Administrator's Guide to Sending Specimens to the Massachusetts State Laboratory using a Local Medical Specimen Courier

As a veterinary administrator, safeguarding the health and wellbeing of animals under your care is of paramount importance. This responsibility extends to promptly identifying and containing potential outbreaks of zoonotic diseases like rabies. Rabies, a fatal viral infection affecting the nervous system of mammals, poses a severe public health risk if left undiagnosed and untreated.


Ensuring rapid and accurate rabies testing is crucial not only for the welfare of your animal patients but also for the protection of your staff and the wider community. This comprehensive guide will outline the importance of sending rabies specimens to the Massachusetts State Laboratory (MSL) in Jamaica Plain and the benefits of partnering with a reputable medical specimen courier service to streamline this process.


The Vital Role of the Massachusetts State Laboratory in Rabies Testing

When it comes to rabies testing in Massachusetts, the MSL serves as the state's designated facility, making it the optimal choice for veterinary practices. Here are the key advantages of utilizing the MSL's services:

Unparalleled Expertise and Accuracy

The MSL boasts a team of highly trained and experienced veterinary diagnosticians specializing in rabies testing. Their in-depth knowledge and proficiency in the latest testing methodologies ensure accurate and reliable results, providing you with the confidence needed to make critical treatment decisions for your patients.

State-of-the-Art Equipment and Technology

The MSL is equipped with cutting-edge technology and advanced diagnostic equipment specifically designed for rabies testing. This state-of-the-art infrastructure guarantees precise and consistent results while expediting the testing process, enabling faster diagnoses for your patients.

Rapid Turnaround Times

Time is of the essence when it comes to rabies testing. The MSL prioritizes rapid testing to minimize delays in treatment decisions. Their efficient processes and dedicated staff ensure timely results, allowing you to implement appropriate protocols quickly, potentially saving the life of an animal exposed to the rabies virus.


Sending specimens to the MSL for rabies testing is often more cost-effective than utilizing private laboratories, especially for high-volume veterinary practices. This affordability can be a significant advantage, enabling you to maintain a balanced budget while ensuring access to reliable testing services.

Compliance with Mandatory Reporting Requirements

Rabies is a reportable disease in Massachusetts, and the MSL plays a crucial role in disease surveillance efforts. By sending specimens to the MSL, you ensure compliance with state regulations and contribute to the monitoring and control of rabies outbreaks, safeguarding both animal and human health.


Recognizing Potential Rabies Cases: Signs and Symptoms

Early detection and prompt testing are critical in managing potential rabies cases. As a veterinary administrator, it's essential to educate your staff on the signs and symptoms that may indicate a rabies infection in animals. These include:

Behavioral Changes

Unusual aggression, uncharacteristic shyness, or a general alteration in behavior can be early warning signs of rabies. Animals infected with the virus may exhibit drastic personality shifts or become unpredictable.

Difficulty Swallowing

As the disease progresses, animals with rabies may experience difficulty swallowing due to throat paralysis, leading to excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth.

Vocal Changes

Rabid animals might exhibit unusual vocalizations, such as howling, growling, or moaning, which can be indicative of neurological disturbances caused by the virus.


Rabies can cause epileptic seizures in affected animals, as the virus attacks the central nervous system.

Disorientation and Paralysis

In the later stages of the disease, rabid animals may appear disoriented, confused, and develop paralysis in their legs or facial muscles.


It's crucial to note that not all animals exhibiting these symptoms will necessarily have rabies. However, if you suspect a potential rabies infection, taking immediate action and following proper testing protocols is essential to prevent further spread and protect public health.


Proper Specimen Collection and Handling: Ensuring Accurate Test Results

Once a rabies infection is suspected, collecting and handling the specimen correctly is critical for ensuring accurate test results. Here are the key steps to follow:

Suitable Specimen

The preferred specimen for rabies testing is the animal's brain tissue. In some cases, such as with smaller animals, the entire head may be submitted whole. It's essential to consult with the MSL or your local animal control authorities for specific guidelines on acceptable specimen types.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

When handling a potentially rabid animal and collecting the specimen, it's imperative to use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves, safety glasses, and a gown. This precaution safeguards your staff from potential exposure to the virus.

Specimen Preservation

Proper preservation of the brain tissue specimen is crucial for accurate testing. The MSL will provide specific instructions on preserving the specimen in a sterile container with a saline solution. Following these guidelines meticulously is essential to maintain the integrity of the sample during transportation.

Documentation and Submission

A completed specimen submission form, available on the MSL website (https://www.mass.gov/doc/rabies-specimen-instructions-0/download), must accompany the specimen. This form provides vital information about the animal, the suspected rabies exposure, and any relevant details that may aid in the testing process.


It's important to consult with your local animal control authorities and adhere to their rabies testing protocols before collecting the specimen. They may have specific requirements or procedures to follow, ensuring compliance with local regulations.


The Benefits of Partnering with a Medical Specimen Courier Service

While your veterinary practice may have the option to deliver the rabies specimen to the MSL directly, partnering with a reputable medical specimen courier service offers numerous advantages that can streamline the process and ensure the integrity of your samples.

Guaranteed Chain of Custody

A medical courier service ensures a documented and secure chain of custody for the specimen, providing a detailed record of its handling and transportation. This documentation is crucial for legal and regulatory purposes, as well as maintaining the integrity of the testing process.

Temperature-Controlled Transportation

Rabies testing requires the specimen to be maintained within a specific temperature range throughout the transportation process. Medical couriers utilize specialized vehicles equipped with temperature-controlled compartments to maintain optimal conditions for the specimen. Improper temperature control can compromise the accuracy of the test results.

Time-Sensitive Delivery

Timely delivery of the specimen is essential for prompt testing and diagnosis. Medical courier services prioritize time-sensitive shipments, ensuring your specimens reach the MSL within their designated receiving hours. This expedited transportation can be critical in situations where rapid testing is necessary.

Compliance with Regulations

Transporting biological specimens, such as those required for rabies testing, is subject to strict regulations and guidelines. Medical courier services are well-versed in these regulations and have established protocols in place to ensure compliance, minimizing the risk of non-compliance issues that could delay or invalidate the testing process.

Experienced Handling and Tracking

Medical couriers are trained in the proper handling and transportation of biological specimens, ensuring your samples are treated with the utmost care and professionalism. Additionally, many courier services offer real-time tracking capabilities, allowing you to monitor the progress of your shipment and ensure timely delivery.

Contingency Planning and Disaster Preparedness

Reputable medical courier services have robust contingency plans and disaster preparedness strategies in place to ensure continuity of service, even in the face of adverse conditions or emergencies. This level of preparedness provides peace of mind, knowing that your critical specimens will reach their destination regardless of unforeseen circumstances.


By partnering with a trusted medical specimen courier service, you can streamline the process of sending rabies specimens to the MSL, minimizing delays and ensuring the accuracy of test results. This collaboration not only enhances the efficiency of your operations but also contributes to the overall effectiveness of rabies surveillance and control efforts in Massachusetts.



As a veterinary administrator, your role in promptly identifying and managing potential rabies cases is crucial for safeguarding animal and public health. By leveraging the expertise and resources of the Massachusetts State Laboratory and partnering with a reputable medical specimen courier service, you can streamline the rabies testing process, ensuring accurate and timely diagnosis.


The MSL's dedicated team, state-of-the-art equipment, and commitment to rapid turnaround times make it the optimal choice for rabies testing in Massachusetts. Coupled with the benefits of a medical courier service, such as guaranteed chain of custody, temperature-controlled transportation, and compliance with regulations, you can have confidence in the integrity of your specimens and the reliability of the test results.


By following the guidelines outlined in this comprehensive guide, you can contribute to the effective management of rabies outbreaks, protect your staff and patients, and ultimately safeguard the health and wellbeing of the communities you serve.

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