Virology and Serology

In virology/serology, we test specimens for evidence of viral, rickettsial, fungal and protozoal infections in cattle, horses, dogs, and cats, as well as select testing for viruses of pigs, sheep, goats, wildlife, llamas, alpacas, amphibians and marine mammals. Serology/virology also conducts fluorescent antibody testing and serological testing for various viral, bacterial, rickettsial, protozoal and fungal pathogens.

Two main groups of tests are offered:

  • Tests that determine the actual presence of infectious disease agents or its components (antigens and toxins) including virus isolation (VI), direct fluorescent antibody (FA) examination, electron microscopy (EM), antigen-ELISA, and cytotoxic assays
  • Tests that provide evidence of exposure such as various serological assays

The fluorescent antibody (FA) test is the most widely used antigen detection system for rapid laboratory diagnosis. Testing is completed on frozen sections of fresh tissue only. Fluorescent antibody test results are reliable if fresh and appropriate tissues are tested. Other rapid diagnostic testing offered includes ELISA and electron microscopy (EM). When possible, separate specimens should be submitted for EM.

More questions? Call (706) 542-5568 to speak with the virology manager.

Specimens

Acceptable specimen types from live animals include nasal or ocular secretions, feces or whole blood. Specimens collected at necropsy should include organs or tissues affected by the disease process. For more information on appropriate specimens to submit for specific tests, please refer to our online test catalog as well as sample collection recommendations.

Virus Isolation

Specimens collected early in the acute stage of illness are preferred for virus isolation. Submit fresh samples with no preservative or fixative added. Materials can sometimes be submitted on sterile swabs if a viral transport medium is used. Tissue samples should be shipped refrigerated on ice packs.

Serology

Serology detects the presence of antibodies in serum samples. With the exception of certain life-long viral infections (equine infectious anemia, bovine leukemia, caprine arthritis encephalitis), antibody presence in an animal does not necessarily indicate the animal is infected with that virus at the time of sampling. As such, serologic results are of limited use in the diagnosis of most infectious diseases unless the results of acute and convalescent sera are compared. Acute samples should be collected as early in the illness as possible and the convalescent sample 2-4 weeks later. More definitive results can usually be obtained faster if samples are submitted for other tests at the same time, (e.g. fluorescent antibody, electron microscopy, PCR, and virus isolation).

Submission Recommendations

If you have special requests or a large sample quantities to submit, please contact the laboratory prior to submission. Blood samples for serology should be collected in sterile plain tubes without anticoagulants. Bangs’ tubes may contain residues which could be toxic and will produce non-diagnostic results. Do not freeze blood or allow it to become overheated. Submit serum rather than whole clotted blood if samples will not be received by the laboratory within 48 hours.

Rabies Suspects

The Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory conducts rabies testing.  Rabies testing can be done for animals with neurological issues where rabies is suspected, as long as there is no human exposure involved.

Human exposure is defined as a bite, scratch, or contact with saliva or brain matter in an open wound or mucous membrane.

If the animal is a rabies suspect and there is human exposure involved, the sample must be sent to the nearest Georgia Department of Public Health Laboratory.

Prior to submitting, call the Environmental Health Office in the county where the bite occurred (List of County Environmental Health Office numbers). The county’s Environmental Health Office will determine if there is human exposure, and then complete a bite incident report using SENDSS (State Electronic Notifiable Disease Surveillance System).  They will coordinate submitting the sample along with the SENDSS report to the Georgia Department of Public Health Laboratory for rabies testing, free of charge.

The Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory is not a public health laboratory and our results are not definitive in rabies human exposure cases.

The whole head should be sent to the Georgia Department of Public Health Laboratory if possible.  If a portion of the brain must be sent, the brain should be cut horizontally to include all three lobes of the cerebellum and the brain stem.

For large animals, the head must come to the Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for brain removal prior to shipping to the Georgia Department of Public Health Laboratory.  Additionally, all cattle suspected of rabies should be tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease) if the rabies result is negative.

Necropsies where there is human exposure on a rabies suspect animal must come to the Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory for brain removal prior to shipping to the Georgia Department of Public Health Laboratory.

In cases where the sample must come to the Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory prior to shipping to the Georgia Department of Public Health Laboratory, a SENDSS number must be obtained prior to submission.