We conducted a retrospective study of 403 laboratory-confirmed dengue cases hospitalized in Tahiti between August 1989 and March 1997. According to standard WHO criteria, 337 of these cases were dengue fever (DF) and 64 were dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF). Of the 10 fatal cases, 6 were DF and 4 were DHF. As an alternative, we used a correspondence analysis procedure to define dengue severity based on basic clinical and biological criteria for which we assigned a severity score, and then selected the 50 most severe cases from this analysis. Of the latter, 17 patients had been classified as DF and 33 as DHF by the WHO criteria. From this analysis, haemorrhages and decreased platelets counts associated with hepatic disorders are the main criteria associated with the severe dengue cases. Thus in our study population, the WHO classification does not account for the overall severity of dengue; hepatic failure should be considered as a specific severe form of dengue since plasma leakage, which is the pathophysiological hallmark of DHF, is only one of the pathogenic mechanisms leading to severity.