Ebola: The First Glimpse of a Virus


On Oct. 13, 1976, exactly 38 years ago Monday, Frederick A. Murphy, a CDC virologist and expert in photographing viruses peered into a microscope and saw what he describes today as a “dark beauty — [a] horror.”

It was the Ebola virus — and it had never been seen until that moment.

Just a few days earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had been delivered a box of specimen from Zaire, where an outbreak of what was thought to be Marburg virus was occurring. The tubes containing the blood and specimens of infected patients had shattered, but Patricia Webb, a CDC virologist, put on gloves and managed to squeeze a drop of the fluid from cotton that had been surrounding the specimens into a tube of monkey kidney cells. A few days later, the monkey cells looked damaged, and Webb gave Murphy a drop of the fluid…

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