Strategies for Detecting and Characterizing the Pathogen

Key points

  • It's important to identify and characterize the pathogen causing a respiratory disease outbreak.
  • Multiple diagnostic tests are available at commercial and CDC laboratories.
  • Obtain approval prior to shipping and follow specimen shipping guidance.
Laboratory scientist loading e-gel


Identifying and characterizing the pathogen causing a respiratory disease outbreak:

  • Ensures effective clinical management
  • Ensures implementation of appropriate infection control measures
  • Allows clinicians to perform targeted testing on suspected cases

Diagnostic tests

State and local public health laboratories, as well as commercial laboratories, offer a variety of diagnostic tests. These tests include:

  • Serology
  • Culture
  • Molecular diagnostic tests

These tests can look for either single or multiple pathogens. Contact your health department to confirm which tests are available.

Requesting assistance‎

CDC can provide information on the diagnostic tests and methods used at CDC to detect and characterize pathogens.

Specimen collection and handling

The following are general guidelines for specimen collection and handling during respiratory disease outbreaks when the pathogen is unknown. Staff involved in collecting and shipping specimens should consult the state or local public health laboratory for specific guidance.

Shipping to CDC‎

Obtain approval from CDC prior to shipping. Be sure to follow CDC's specimen submission guidance.

CDC staff are available to assist public health staff who are interested in laboratory testing through CDC. CDC requires a completed specimen submission form 50.34 for all specimens shipped to CDC.