A novel immunohistochemical assay for the detection of Ebola virus in skin: implications for diagnosis, spread, and surveillance of Ebola hemorrhagic fever. Commission de Lutte contre les Epidémies à Kikwit

J Infect Dis. 1999 Feb;179 Suppl 1:S36-47. doi: 10.1086/514319.


Laboratory diagnosis of Ebola hemorrhagic fever (EHF) is currently performed by virus isolation and serology and can be done only in a few high-containment laboratories worldwide. In 1995, during the EHF outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the possibility of using immunohistochemistry (IHC) testing of formalin-fixed postmortem skin specimens was investigated as an alternative diagnostic method for EHF. Fourteen of 19 cases of suspected EHF met the surveillance definition for EHF and were positive by IHC. IHC, serologic, and virus isolation results were concordant for all EHF and non-EHF cases. IHC and electron microscopic examination showed that endothelial cells, mononuclear phagocytes, and hepatocytes are main targets of infection, and IHC showed an association of cellular damage with viral infection. The finding of abundant viral antigens and particles in the skin of EHF patients suggests an epidemiologic role for contact transmission. IHC testing of formalin-fixed skin specimens is a safe, sensitive, and specific method for laboratory diagnosis of EHF and should be useful for EHF surveillance and prevention.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antigens, Viral / metabolism
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo / epidemiology
  • Disease Outbreaks
  • Ebolavirus / immunology
  • Ebolavirus / isolation & purification*
  • Ebolavirus / ultrastructure
  • Female
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / diagnosis*
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / epidemiology
  • Hemorrhagic Fever, Ebola / transmission
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry / methods*
  • Immunohistochemistry / statistics & numerical data
  • Inclusion Bodies, Viral / ultrastructure
  • Infant
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver / virology
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin / virology*


  • Antigens, Viral