Rabies Laboratory Services

The Houston Health Department laboratory is the primary rabies testing facility for Houston and several of its surrounding counties.

Rabies specimens are accepted at the Houston Health Department main laboratory between the hours of 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday at 2250 Holcombe Blvd., Houston, Texas 77030

General questions regarding specimens, test/result status, or submission requirements can be directed to the rabies laboratory at 832-393-3917.

  • The laboratory only accepts animal heads for testing, except for bats or small rodents. We request that bats and small rodents be submitted intact.
  • Specimens should be kept cold with cold packs and packaged with absorbent material. If ice must be used, please double bag it in sturdy plastic bags. Also keep current weather conditions in mind when packing the specimen and provide enough cold packs to keep the specimens cold for at least 48 hours. DO NOT FREEZE SPECIMENS.
  • Submission request slips should be packaged in a waterproof bag.
  • The laboratory must examine a complete cross section of the brain stem and either the cerebellum or hippocampus to be confident that adequate samples have been tested. If the animal head has been compromised due to trauma or decomposition, the laboratory may not be able to generate a valid result.
  • Please notify the lab at 832-393-3917 of all bus shipments.
  • Specimens shipped by the various overnight services (e.g., Federal Express) are accepted by the laboratory in the same manner as specimens delivered by individuals. Please note that these delivery services will not deliver the packages to the City of Houston Laboratory on weekends and holidays. We do not recommend shipping via services who will not garuantee overnight shipping. Specimens that do not arrive in a timely manner may decompose while in transit.

Fee for Rabies Testing

Fee for rabies testing is as follows:

  • Submitter: Identified public animal control agencies (e.g., BARC, HCVPH) and surveillance. No charge.
    Fee for rabies testing: No charge
  • Submitter: All priority 1* and  priority 2** cases as identified by Houston Health Department or other health department epidemiologist or Regional Zoonosis. Note: A health department assigned case or bite umber must be submitted with the sample submission form.
    Fee for rabies testing: No charge
  • Submitter: All privately owned veterinary clinics that are not identified by Houston Health Department or other health department as priority 1*, or 2** cases.
    • Fee for rabies testing: $40
  • Submitter: Private citizens that are not identified by Houston Health Department as priority 1*, or 2** cases.
    • Fee for rabies testing: $40
  • Please note: In order to be categorized by HHD as priority 1* or 2** and have the testing fee waived the submission must be verified by the Regional Zoonosis Department (713-767-3300) as having met the criteria.

Prioritization of Specimens

  • The Rabies Section of the Houston Health Department laboratory will assess the urgency of test requests via the laboratory's established case priority and/or approval by the Houston Health Department or other health department epidemiology unit.
  • Priority 1* – Known Human Bite. Note: applies to animals considered high risk for rabies infection (e.g., bat, skunk).
  • Priority 2** – Known Human Exposure or Bat found inside residence.
  • Priority 3 – Pet Exposure.
  • Priority 4 – Other.

Decomposed and destroyed specimens are not tested and are reported as decomposed or destroyed.

Each specimen should be accompanied by a Houston Health Department request for Rabies Testing form.

The Houston Health Department rabies laboratory recognizes all City of Houston approved holidays, and the lab will be closed. Specimens must be received by noon on the last business day before a City of Houston approved holiday for testing. Specimens received after 12 p.m. will be held for testing until the next business day.

Please note: Approximately two percent of specimens appear suspicious on primary testing and cannot be conclusively reported positive or negative. These specimens must be repeated. This will delay reports on these specimens. 

Emergency Testing of Rabies Specimens

The Houston Health Department rabies laboratory has limited provisions in place to accommodate requests for emergency testing.

Emergency testing on known human bite cases from an animal with a high prevalence of rabies in our testing region (i.e. bat, skunk) will be performed at the request of Regional Zoonosis and laboratory administration.

The requesting agency should contact the Regional Zoonosis team (713-767-3300) and Laboratory Director or Virology Supervisor.

Approved emergency testing will be performed within 24 hours of arrival when advised by a medical professional or epidemiologist.

Due to the limited provisions of the Houston Health Department to provide emergency testing, some requests for emergency testing may be immediately deferred to the Department of State Health Services laboratory (DSHS) to ensure prompt attention.

Please note: In the event that specimens are sent to the Department of State Health Services laboratory (DSHS), please see contact information below.

Texas Department of State Health Services Rabies Identification Team
Attn: Nachea Qualls
1100 W 49th Street,
Austin, TX 78756.
Tel: 512-458-7595
Biological Substances, Category B

DSHS laboratory MUST be notified in advance of shipment using the Rabies Hotline: 800-252-8163. Please refer to the DSHS Rabies Testing page for more information.

Rabies Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Where are you located? We are in the Medical Center on the VA Campus. The address is 2250 Holcombe Blvd, Houston, TX 77030. If you are dropping off a specimen look for entrance 73. This is where you turn, and we are the two buildings on the left that face out to the street. There is a sign on the side of the building that points towards the door for specimen drop-off, ring the doorbell to be buzzed in. Please be careful not to put West Holcombe into your GPS.
  2. How do I package a specimen? Specimens must be decapitated, wrapped in an absorbent material and placed in a plastic bag, and kept on ice packs in a Styrofoam cooler inside a cardboard box. Place the submission form in a Ziploc bag inside the Styrofoam cooler or attached onto the outside of the cooler but inside the cardboard box. The package must follow all guidelines for UN3373 Biological Substance Category B. 
  3. Does the animal have to be decapitated? Yes, all animals except for bats must be decapitated. Animals bigger than the palm of your hand from nose to tail stretched out, it does not matter what age or weight of the animal is, must be decapitated.
  4. How long does it take to get results? All animals received before 10am will be tested same day and results will be called out by end of day. Any animal that is delivered after that time will be tested the next business day. On Friday, the cutoff time for same day testing is extended to noon. A delay in testing may occur if the specimen is frozen or requires additional testing. 
  5. Do you test humans? No. The test requires a cross section of the brain stem and cerebellum, for obvious reasons this test cannot be performed on a living person. There are no reliable tests to detect the presence of rabies before the onset of symptoms and signs at which point it is too late to receive preventive measures. Therefore, it is critical to test the animal after an exposure to determine if rabies Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) should be administered. If an animal is not available for testing please contact Regional Zoonosis for a risk assessment, 713-767-3300.
  6. Do we legally have to send this animal in for rabies testing? Please check with your local regulations.
  7. I found a bat in my house; does it need to be tested? Yes. Any bat that is found inside your home and may have been present while you were sleeping should be captured for testing. Do not touch or handle a bat with bare hands. Call animal control (311) to come out and capture any live bats and remove any dead ones to be submitted for rabies testing. Avoid smashing the bat, it can destroy the brain tissue and prevent the test from being conducted. You can call out your local animal control agency (dial 311) to capture single or small number of bats that have entered inside your home so they may be submitted for testing. Otherwise, it is the responsibility of the home or property owner to contact a wildlife or pest removal service with experience in bat exclusion if your house is infested with bats. 
  8. How long is an animal viable for testing after euthanasia? Many factors can dictate the rate of decomposition, but if the specimen is properly stored in a refrigerator it is recommend that testing is done within 72 hours of death. We do accept specimens outside of this timeframe and always attempt to test the tissue but there are no guarantees that the tissue will still be viable for testing. Always submit specimens for testing as soon as possible. 
  9. I accidently froze the specimen, can it still be tested? Yes, but the animal must remain frozen until we receive it. The thawing process is very damaging to the tissue and may result in an unsatisfactory specimen. Frozen samples may also experience a delay in results due to the very delicate thawing process in order to ensure the brain tissue remains intact while being removed. 
  10. Can I get my animal’s head back? Yes, but only if the animal has been determined negative for rabies. You must also call the lab at 832-393-3917 and notify us of this request prior to testing. As well as make note of the request on the submission form. Requests made after testing has been completed will not be returned, the head has already been disposed of by that time.