Laboratory specimens may travel for analysis to facilities far from the point of collection, with some literally traveling the globe. This process is more complicated than it might seem. It requires quality specimen collection, secure transport and timely delivery—and there are opportunities for error at every step. Difficulties notwithstanding, on-time delivery of quality specimens is critical to early disease detection, which controls the spread of pathogens to save lives. Recently APHL and CDC partnered to address these challenges with two Respiratory and Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CSF) Specimen Packaging and Shipping courses in Entebbe, Uganda and Hanoi, Vietnam. Organized under the laboratory initiative of the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), the courses aim to improve detection of pathogens threatening global health. Additional courses will be conducted in GHSA countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and the WHO Western Pacific Region.
Maintaining Specimen Quality
In the laboratory, there is an age-old adage: “Garbage in…garbage out.” Specimen quality starts at the point of collection and continues through travel by land, sea or air to the point of delivery. Optimal conditions must be maintained to preserve sample integrity, which is easier said than done, especially in resource-limited settings. The APHL-CDC course aims to eliminate the “garbage in” problem with detailed instructions for collecting and packaging respiratory and CSF specimens, including collection devices, transport media and the temperature to be maintained throughout shipping.
Moving Specimens Safely and Securely
Release of infectious substances from a package of specimens can pose serious risks to transportation carriers, package handlers and the public. To ensure everyone is safe at every step along the way, infectious substances must be handled with care and shipped in accordance with international regulations. The APHL-CDC course dedicates a full day to the WHO Infectious Substances Shipping Training, which examines classification, documentation, marking, labeling, packaging of infectious substances and preparation of shipments requiring the use of dry ice. This training also provides hands-on practice with shipping documentation and packaging of mock specimens for Category A and Category B shipments.
43 Trained from 17 Countries
The APHL-CDC packaging and shipping courses trained 43 participants representing 29 institutions from 17 countries. Ninety-eight percent received a passing score on the WHO Infectious Substances Shipping Training exam, with a knowledge gain of 66% between the pre- and post-tests. Participants can use the exam certification to demonstrate competency and ultimately become certified to ship by their individual laboratories. As more laboratorians master the complexities of packaging and shipping, laboratory systems will reap the benefits of more efficient and secure exchange of specimens.