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By Tara C. Smith, Edward I. Alcamo

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Rather than using patient sera, this test uses skin samples from patients suspected of infection. Skin samples are placed in a chemical called formalin. This kills the Ebola virus, making the samples safe to work with in the absence of biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) facilities. The general procedure, however, is quite similar to the assays previously described. PCR-BASED METHODS OF DETECTION Immunological methods are most useful for detecting past infection with the Ebola virus. They can detect current infection as well, but there are some problems with this.

Nearly a decade later, scientist Kary Mullis introduced a technique called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), using Taq polymerase. Using Taq, free nucleotides, small pieces of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) to serve as primers, and a DNA sample to serve as a template, millions of copies of a piece of DNA could be made. This procedure has revolutionized all fields of biology, and is used in genetic research, medicine, and even forensic science. q 64 3/7/08 1:10 PM Page 64 EBOLA workers survived, but because there was no control group (a group of patients with a similar infection, who did not receive treatment), it is not known whether their survival was a result of the serum, the interferon, both of the treatments, or neither of the treatments.

Other evidence supports these observations. Eight groups of gorillas (totaling 143 individuals) that had been monitored by primatologists for 10 years disappeared sometime between October 2002 and January 2003. A similar occurrence in the Taï Forest of Côte d’Ivoire in 1994 coincided with the discovery of Ebola in that area of Africa. Sequencing of the Ebola viruses isolated from some of the carcasses suggested that the deaths were due to multiple introductions of the virus, rather than one continuous epidemic.

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