The Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) epidemic that occurred in southern Mauritania during the 1987 rainy season provided a unique opportunity to test and evaluate a recently developed, M-segment-specific, nucleic acid filter hybridization assay on a large collection of infected human serum samples. It afforded the opportunity to compare the procedure with two other methods for detecting virus: virus isolation and antigen detection by ELISA. The filter hybridization procedure employed a polyethylene-glycol-precipitation and proteinase-K-digestion sample treatment step developed specifically for preparing serum samples for hybridization. The procedure was less sensitive for detecting RVFV in the Mauritanian human viremic samples than in sera from experimentally infected monkeys used to evaluate this procedure. It was also less sensitive than an antigen detection procedure used to test the Mauritanian samples. However, we were able to detect virus RNA in a significant proportion of the virus-isolation-positive samples. Advances in sample preparation, labelling and detection procedures, and hybridization methods will improve the sensitivity, precision and ease of use of this assay and increase its value as a diagnostic tool.