Rabies Testing, Animal Bites and Rabies Risk - Minnesota Dept. of Health

Rabies Testing
Animal Bites and Rabies Risk: A Guide for Health Professionals

On this page:
Testing background
Guidelines for submitting suspect animals for rabies testing
Laboratory testing, result reporting, and positive result follow-up
Rabies testing in humans


  • In Minnesota, 26,890 suspect animals were tested for rabies from 2003 to 2013 (median, 2,398 samples per year).
  • Of these, 682 (2.54%) tested positive for rabies.
  • Skunks and bats form the two wildlife rabies reservoirs in Minnesota and were the animals most commonly found to be rabid.
  • Skunks had the highest number and the greatest proportion (288/595; 48%) of positive samples from 2003 to 2013.
  • Among bats, 264 (3.59%) of 7,360 submissions tested positive.
  • There were 875 raccoons tested during the 11-year period, and all were negative for rabies.
  • Among domestic farm animals (cattle, horses, goats, and sheep), cattle had the highest number and greatest proportion of positive samples (49/663; 7.4%).
  • Dogs and cats had a lower proportion of positive samples (68/15,862; 0.5%), from 2003 to 2013, although they constituted the majority of submissions.

Guidelines for submitting suspect animals for rabies testing

The only test for rabies in animals that may be used to guide human rabies risk analysis is the direct fluorescent antibody (DFA) test. There is no live animal test for rabies. The animal’s brain, specifically sections of the medulla, cerebellum, and hippocampus are required to perform the DFA test. The brain must be relatively fresh and in good condition, as the test cannot be done reliably if the different regions of the brain are not discernable. See the Rabies Specimen Submission Form (page 23) for complete instructions on specimen handling and submission.

Laboratory testing, result reporting, and positive result follow-up

  • There is a $26.25 fee payable to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL) for rabies testing by the direct fluorescent antibody (DFA) test. Please add 10% for out-of-state specimens.
  • Results for specimens received at the VDL before 11:00 a.m. will be available the next business day by 2 p.m. Results for specimens received after 11:00 a.m. will be available in two business days.
  • Expedited testing is available in emergency situations. Healthcare providers, veterinarians, public health or law enforcement may contact MDH Epidemiology at (651) 201-5414 to discuss the need for an expedited test.  
  • Positive rabies reports are telephoned immediately to the veterinarian, healthcare provider, or other submitter listed on the Rabies Specimen Submission Form.
  • Positive test results are reported to the Minnesota Board of Animal Health (BAH) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
  • Situations involving laboratory-confirmed rabies positive animals are investigated, evaluated, and managed by MDH epidemiologists and BAH veterinarians.
  • Negative rabies reports are mailed or faxed to the submitter within 1 business day of completion of the test.

Rabies testing in humans

  • Testing for diagnosis of rabies in humans is performed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Please telephone the MDH Zoonotic Disease Unit at (651) 201-5414 for assistance with human rabies specimen submission and testing.

Updated Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 04:10PM