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Submission and testing of animals for rabies

The Public Health Laboratory (PHL) at the Oklahoma State Health Department (OSDH) will test animals for rabies if people or other animals have been exposed.  “Exposed” could mean the following:

  • The animal bit a person or another animal,
  • Another animal is known or suspected to have bitten the animal in question, or
  • Saliva from the animal has come in contact with a person or another animal’s broken skin or mucus membranes (a naturally moist part of the body such as eyes or mouth). 

The PHL performs rabies tests Monday – Friday, excluding holidays. The PHL will conduct testing at some point during weekends in which a state holiday either precedes or follows the weekend, to minimize delays in testing.  Urgent test requests may occur on weekends or holidays following consultation with OSDH Acute Disease Service.  Healthcare providers, veterinarians, and animal control officers are advised to consult with the ADS Epidemiologist-on-Call at (405) 271-4060 (24/7/365 availability) to determine if urgent animal rabies testing is warranted based on the bite circumstances, severity, and animal involved. 

Specimens received by 11:00 a.m. are normally tested and results reported by 5:00 p.m. on the same day, or on the next business day if submitted during the weekend. Specimens received after 11:00 a.m. are tested and results reported on the next business day. An ADS epidemiologist will contact the submitter by telephone when a specimen is positive for rabies, and when a specimen is deemed unsatisfactory for testing.  Test results for all specimens are mailed to submitters. Test results for negative specimens may be telephoned or faxed when requested in writing on the Rabies Submission Form ODH-460

If the animal’s head is available for testing, the decision to take rabies post-exposure shots should always be postponed until the rabies test results are available.  It is definitely safe to wait the extra day or two for the test results before starting the rabies shots, if needed.

Guidelines for submitting animal heads to the OSDH PHL for rabies testing:

  1. It is important to keep the head of the animal intact.   The rabies test is performed on the brain of the animal, so it is important that the animal’s brain remain intact until it arrives at the PHL.  Things to avoid:  crushing the animal’s skull, shooting the animal in the head, freezing the animal, leaving the animal at room temperature. 
  2. The animal should be kept cold (NOT frozen) at all times.  An animal left at room temperature can decompose, which prevents rabies testing.  All efforts should be made to keep the animal cold by refrigeration, not freezing.  (If the animal was frozen prior to consulting this guidance, ensure that the animal remains frozen until it arrives at the PHL.)  If the animal is not kept cold from the time of death until it reaches the PHL, the brain of the animal may decompose which prevents the animal from being tested for rabies.
  3. Animals measuring less than 12 inches (not including the tail) may be submitted whole.  If an animal is 12 inches or longer, send only the head.  A veterinarian should remove the head to be sure the brain stays intact.
  4. Place the animal head in a box with a leak-proof plastic bag liner. Make sure to label RABIES on the box so it is placed in the appropriate location once it arrives at OSDH.
  5. The animal must be taken to the OSDH PHL in Oklahoma City.  Options for safely transporting the animal include:
           a.  Using a courier service that can be arranged through your veterinarian.
           b.  Personally delivering the animal to the OSDH PHL.  A security guard is stationed at the OSDH
                24/7/365 and can accept animals for rabies testing.
  6. You will need to complete a Rabies Submission Form with your contact information and
    exposure details.
      The guard will have this form, or you can print it from the OSDH website.
  7. If you are a veterinarian or animal control, please verify the address on the rabies box:

Oklahoma State Department of Health
Public Health Lab
1000 NE 10
th ST
Oklahoma City, OK 73117


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