Vet labs like ADRDL assist with COVID testing


The South Dakota Animal Disease Research and Diagnostic Laboratory (ADRDL) on the campus of SDSU has been providing diagnostic services for animal owners since 1887. Only one year ago, agricultural leaders, administrators, faculty and staff gathered to celebrate and cut the ribbon for the beautiful new high containment laboratory where this work would continue in state-of-the-art facilities. After years of planning and construction it appeared things might get back to normal at the lab … but then the COVID pandemic appeared.

Suddenly, human public health laboratories were overwhelmed with testing demands. Public health officials in each state had to quickly find options to expand testing capacity amid a pandemic that also impacted labor availability. Infectious disease labs are complex facilities that must ensure safety of their lab’s workers as well as the surrounding environment. Diagnostic personnel have advanced degrees and specialized experiences that take years to develop. In other words, fixing the problem of overwhelming test demand in the public health labs did not have simple solutions. 

It would take consideration of unique solutions from outside of normal testing schemes.

Could animal health diagnostic labs assist public health labs? Scientifically, the answer is definitely yes. The science of germ identification is identical whether the animal is human or bovine or canine. The equipment and biosafety principles, and the facility requirements are universal. The educational training in basic sciences is the same. The only things different were the traditional lines of authority and licensure issues between human medicine and veterinary medicine. Adjustments were quickly made to solve these issues during a national testing capacity crisis.

Veterinary diagnostic labs across the nation, like the SDSU ADRDL, have been asked to step in and assist with human COVID virus testing. Currently, 20 AAVLD accredited animal health labs in the USA are testing for COVID in human specimens. At the ADRDL, the focus is on keeping the campus safe and operational. They add this work, while still completing their primary mission of ensuring food animals, pets and wildlife remain healthy; ensuring the food supply is secure.

The potential for the need of such a response was anticipated years ago by epidemiologists and infectious disease lab workers. In 2006, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) established the One Health Initiative Task Force. The One Health concept states simply that the health of the planet is determined by the combined and interactive health statuses of humans, animals and the environment. The concept was quickly endorsed by the American Medical Association (AMA), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Animal Health Association (OIE in Paris). Federal agency coordination is now under the CDC One Health office, directed by Dr. Casey Barton, a veterinarian.

The coordination that allowed animal health labs to rapidly step in to assist with COVID testing was largely due to the previous establishment of the National Animal Health Lab Network (NAHLN). The NAHLN is an example of a successful working partnership between a Federal agency (USDA) and the state laboratories represented by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD). The SD ADRDL is a key member of the NAHLN.

One year ago following the new ADRDL’s dedication ceremony, I closed a congratulatory and thank you letter by saying I was confident that this new laboratory would serve the state and nation well as an essential public infrastructure… a point that this past year has now proven absolutely true. Keep up the great work ADRDL, and thank you to all veterinary laboratory diagnosticians for your dedicated public service!

To learn more about veterinary diagnostic labs in the USA, go to

To learn more about One Health, go to