Office of Research Assurances

Hazardous Materials Shipping

Infectious Substances


Infectious substances are materials known to be, or are reasonably suspected to contain, an animal or human pathogen. A pathogen is a virus, microorganism (including bacteria, plasmids, or other genetic elements), proteinaceous infectious particle (prion) or recominant microorganism (hybrid or mutant) that is known or reasonably expected to cause disease in humans or animals. Microorganisms that are unlikely to cause human or or animal disease are not subject to biological shipping regulations.

Category A Infectious Substances

Category A Infectious Substances are capable of causing permanent disability, life threatening or fatal disease in humans or animals when exposure to them occurs. Category A Infectious Substances are shipped as infectious substances, affecting humans (UN2814), or infectious substances affecting animals (UN2900). Indicative examples of Category A Infectious Substances: Click Here


The triple packaging concept (explained below) applies to Category A Infectious Substances. Purchasing packaging compliant with IATA Packing Instruction 620. Click Here to see a list of shipping suppliers. Make sure to specify if you are shipping a refrigerated sample (ice packs or dry ice). The maximum quantity of infectious substances that can be shipped by air in one package is 4L or 4kg. The maximum quantity that may be shipped via passenger aircraft is 50mL or 50g.


The outer container of a Category A Infectious Substance shipment must display the following information:

  • Sender and recipient's full name and address;
  • Infectious substance label (Figure 1);
  • "UN2814 - Infectious Substance, Affecting Humans" and net quantity or
  • "UN2900 - Infectious Substance, Affecting Animals" and net quantity;
  • The text "Person Responsible: (NAME)";
  • 24 Hour emergency number (Please contact the ORA Shipping Coordinator for this number)
  • Class 9 label (Figure 2), including UN1845 and net weight, if packaged with dry ice; and
  • Cargo Aircraft Label, when shipping over 50mL or 50g

Figure 1 Figure 1 Class 9 Label Figure 2

Triple Packaging

Biological materials must be packaged according to the Triple Packaging Principle. The 3 elements of Triple Packaging include: Primary Receptacle, Leak-Proof Secondary Container, and Durable Outer Container. Infectious substances in Category A and B, patient specimens and genetically modified microorganisms must be packaged in this way, with slight variations. An example of Triple Packaging is below.

The Primary Container holds the biological material; it must be leak-proof. It must be labeled with the name of the contents. A leak-proof seal, such as a heat seal, skirted stopper or metal crimp. is required. If the container has a threaded lid, it must be secured with waterproof tape (e.g. Parafilm, etc.). Petri plates cannot be used as primary receptacles. Lyophilized substances can only be shipped in flame sealed glass ampoules or rubber stopped glass vials with metal seals. Packaging purchased for shipping infectious substances usually does not include the primary container.

The Secondary Container holds one or more primary containers, and must also be leak-proof. Secondary containers for all Category A and liquid Category B infectious substances must meet specific pressure test standards when shipping liquids. Containers purchased from commercial vendors are designed to meet the necessary standards. If you are shipping any liquid, there must be enough absorbent material in the secondary container to absorb all of the liquid in the primary receptacle(s). If multiple primary containers are used, they must be wrapped to prevent contact between them so they do not break during transport.

The Outer Container must be rigid and have one side that is at least 100mmX100mm, in order for required markings and labels to fit. The outer package must be of adequate strength for its capacity, mass, and intended use. An itemized list of package contents must be included between the outer and secondary container. The outer package should be marked to identify hazardous contents, including the proper shipping name, UN number and net quantity for each substance, if required.

Pullman Campus
Office of Research Assurances, P.O. Box 643005, Albrook Rm. 205, Washington State University, Pullman WA 99164-3005
Hazardous Material and Shipping Coordinator: Phone: 509-432-3869, Fax: 509-335-6410