When Ebola was discovered on US soil, scientists feared they were facing the worst disaster in the history of the US. This National Geographic series reveals what happened.

In 1989, in a scientific facility outside Washington, DC, the deadly Ebola virus made its first known appearance on US soil. The finding — and eventual containment — of this lethal filovirus, which had a fatality rate of up to 90 per cent at the time, was thanks to a group of courageous scientists and soldiers led by Lieutenant Colonel Nancy Jaax. National Geographic’s six-part limited series The Hot Zone, inspired by the true events detailed in Richard Preston’s international best-seller of the same name, shares the harrowing tale of a global crisis that never was.

The Hot Zone begins with a terrifying look back to 1980, when an unsuspecting doctor in Kenya examines a patient with symptoms unlike anything seen before. Flashing forward to 1989, a colony of primates has become sick at a research facility in Virginia, just over 30 kilometres from the US Capitol, and sample tissues are sent to Nancy Jaax, a lieutenant colonel with USAMRIID, the US Army’s main facility for defensive research into countermeasures against biological warfare.

Jaax’s instincts and experience tell her she is seeing something far worse than a run-of-the-mill primate infection. Despite the scepticism of her colleagues, Dr Peter Jahrling and Col Vernon Tucker, but with the support of her mentor, Dr Wade Carter, and her husband, US Army veterinarian Lt Col Jerry Jaax, she pushes forward to find the truth.

Through Nancy’s perseverance, scientific testing reveals the dire truth of the situation, forcing the Army into action to contain an outbreak. The series also flashes back to the late 1970s to see how Dr Carter and Travis Rhodes first tracked, studied and attempted to contain Ebola in Africa.

But will the lessons they learned help stop this disease from hitting the human population? A dramatic, high-stakes scientific thriller with a courageous and determined heroine at its core, The Hot Zone brings true science and human drama together for a gripping tale that still resonates today.

The Hot Zone S1 premieres on Wednesday 3 July on National Geographic (181) at 21:00. It will also be available on DStv Now.

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