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Chapter 3 - Specimen Shipment
Author: J. Christian Franson
Procedures for shipping specimens vary with different disease diagnostic laboratories. Therefore, it is important to contact the receiving laboratory and obtain specific shipping instructions. This will facilitate processing of specimens when they reach the laboratory and assure that the quality of specimens is not compromised. Time spent on field investigation, specimen collection, and obtaining an adequate history will be of little value if specimens become contaminated, decomposed, or otherwise spoiled during shipping to the diagnostic laboratory.
There are five important considerations for proper specimen shipment: (l) prevent cross-contamination from specimen to specimen, (2) prevent decomposition of the specimen, (3) prevent leakage of fluids, (4) preserve individual specimen identity, and (5) properly label the package. Basic supplies needed for specimen shipment are shown in Fig. 3.l.
Preventing Breakage and Leakage
Isolate individual specimens from one another by enclosing them in separate packages such as plastic bags. Protect specimens from direct contact with any coolant used (e.g., wet ice or dry ice), and contain all materials within the package so that leakage to the outside of the shipment container is prevented if breakage occurs (e.g., blood tubes) or materials thaw (wet ice and frozen carcasses) due to transit delays.
Plastic bags should be strong enough to resist being punctured by materials contained within them and from contact with other containers within the package.
StyrofoamŪ coolers, shipped in cardboard boxes, are useful for their insulating and shock absorbing qualities. StyrofoamŪ at least 1inch thick is preferred. When possible, select StyrofoamŪ coolers that have straight sides. Coolers that are wider at the top than at the bottom are more likely to break during transit than those with straight sides. Fill the space between the outside of the StyrofoamŪ cooler and the cardboard box with newspaper or other packing material to avoid cooler breakage (Fig. 3.2). If coolers are not available, cut sheets of StyrofoamŪ insulation to fit the inside of cardboard boxes.
The cardboard box protects the StyrofoamŪ cooler from being crushed during transit and serves as containment for the entire package (Fig. 3.3). The strength of the box should be consistent with the weight of the package. Cardboard boxes are not needed when hard plastic or metal insulated chests are used for specimen shipment, but boxes can be used to protect those containers from damage and to provide a surface for attaching labels and addresses to the shipment.
Cooling and Refrigeration
Chemical ice packs (Fig. 3.4) are preferable to wet ice because their packaging prevents them from leaking when they thaw. Ice cubes or block ice may be used if leakage can be prevented. This can be accomplished most easily by filling plastic jugs such as milk, juice, and soda containers with water and freezing them. The lids of these containers should be taped closed to prevent them from being jarred open during transit.
Use dry ice to keep materials frozen, but do not use it to ship specimens that should remain chilled because it will freeze them. Also, the carbon dioxide given off by dry ice can destroy some disease agents; this is of concern when tissues, rather than whole carcasses, are being shipped. Shipment of dry ice, formalin, and alcohol is regulated and should be cleared with the carrier before shipping.
Preparing Specimens for Shipment to the National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC)
Other disease diagnostic laboratories may require minor variations in shipping procedures.
Federal Shipping Regulations for Packaging and Labeling
Your packaging and labeling of specimens must conform to the following regulations.
The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) states under 50 CFR Part 14 of Fish and Wildlife Regulations that containers with wildlife specimens must bear the name and address of the shipper and consignee, and a list of the species and numbers of each species must be conspicuously marked on the outside of the container. You may instead conspicuously mark the outside of each package or container with the word "wildlife" or the common names of the species contained within the package. Secure an invoice or packing list that includes the name and address of the consignee and shipper and that accurately states the number of each species contained in the shipment to the outside of one container in the shipment.
In addition to Fish and Wildlife Service regulations, the interstate shipment of diagnostic specimens is subject to applicable packaging, labeling, and shipping requirements for disease-causing etiologic agents (42 CFR Part 72). These regulations do not require you to identify diagnostic specimens as etiologic agents when the disease agent is not known or is only suspected. However, all specimen packages sent to the NWHC should be prominently labeled with the words "DIAGNOSTIC SPECIMENS (WILDLIFE)." You can meet packaging requirements under 42 CFR Part 72 by following recommendations 2 through 5 above for enclosing specimens within two containers before enclosing them within the package.
Hazardous Materials Regulations of the Department of Transportation apply whenever dry ice is contained within the shipping container (49 CFR Part 172, 173, 175). Always call the carrier ahead of time for the current shipping and package labeling requirements. At the time of this writing, the following must be clearly visible on containers with dry ice: DRY ICE 9, UN1845, weight of dry ice (kilograms), a hazardous materials miscellaneous 9 sticker, and the complete addresses of the shipper and recipient. The dry ice labeling should go on the side of the container, so it is visible if something is stacked on top of it. Always include the words "DIAGNOSTIC SPECIMENS (WILDLIFE)" on the container. A properly labeled container is illustrated in Fig. 3.11. Label containers with permanent markers, if possible.
Specimens should be shipped by carriers that can guarantee 24-hour delivery to the location of the diagnostic laboratory. For many locations, commercial delivery services will pick up packages at the point of origin. When shipping arrangements have been made, contact the NWHC again and provide the airbill number and estimated time of arrival. This information is needed to allow prompt tracing of shipments that may not arrive on schedule and to schedule work at the laboratory.
J. Christian Franson
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