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Transport of Research Material Containing Infectious Agents or Other Biological Hazards

We’ve received some questions about shipment and receipt of biological samples, particularly in the context of the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa; for example, whether grantees can accept biological materials from Africa, and whether NIH has in place any requirements for transporting such research materials. In light of these incoming questions, I think this is a good time to remind you that a number of regulations are in place to ensure the safe transportation of infectious agents and other biological materials and everyone shipping biological materials should continue to follow these requirements to protect the safety of researchers and the general public.

Several agencies work together to oversee the transportation of biological materials. For instance, the US Department of Transportation oversees packaging and shipping requirements that apply to all diagnostic specimens, and the US Postal Service has requirements for the shipping of infectious substances. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Import Permit Program (IPP) regulates the importation of infectious biological agents, infectious substances, and vectors of human disease into the United States. Shipments of materials known to contain human infectious agents, including the Ebola virus, are subject to CDC’s Import Permit Program regulations, which you can read more about on the CDC website. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service permits are required for the transport of biological materials containing animal or plant pathogens.

The Department of Health and Human Services and USDA also collaborate in the oversight of select agents, including Ebola. Strict regulations govern the possession, use, and transfer of select agents. More information can be found at SelectAgents.gov.

I encourage you to visit the Science Safety Security (S3) website, which has links to a number of biosafety- and biosecurity-related resources, including a list of resources pertaining to the shipment of biological materials.

There may be other requirements that pertain to your organization or jurisdiction, so we encourage you to work with your institution’s biosafety program to ensure you are properly procuring and handling biological reagents and study samples.

As for researchers seeking to study samples from Ebola patients within the United States, I encourage you to read the CDC’s guidance for specimen collection.

As my colleagues and I described in a blog earlier this year, we must always be vigilant when implementing research safety practices as the public’s trust in our great enterprise depends on it.

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