During the past 40 years, dengue haemorrhagic fever and dengue shock syndrome (DHF/DSS) have emerged in humans, with approximately 3 million cases reported and over 58 000 deaths. Dengue virus serotypes 1, 2 and 4 (DENV-1, -2 and -4) have been co-circulating in Venezuela for at least the past 10 years, causing minor or major outbreaks of dengue fever (DF) and DHF/DSS. The first recorded outbreak due to DENV-3 in Venezuela dates to 1964 and the virus then seems to have disappeared. However, DENV-3 re-appeared recently (in July, 2000) in Venezuela after 32 years of absence and produced a prolonged major outbreak, which, by the end of 2001, involved 83 180 cases of dengue, mostly DF (92 %). Previous phylogenetic studies revealed that the DENV-3 circulating during the 1960s Latin American outbreak was a genotype V virus. To gain a better understanding of the nature of the current epidemic, the complete sequence was determined of the envelope (E) gene of 15 Venezuelan DENV-3 viruses isolated during 2000 and 2001 from patients presenting with different disease severity. Sequence data were used in phylogenetic comparisons with global samples of DENV-3. Analysis revealed that the strain circulating in Venezuela is closely related to isolates that were previously present in Panama and Nicaragua in 1994 and since then have spread through Central American countries and Mexico. This study also confirms previous reports showing that the DENV-3 strain currently circulating in the Americas is related to the strain that caused DHF epidemics in Sri Lanka and India in 1989-1991 (genotype III). Finally, no evidence of the re-emergence of the strain that circulated in Venezuela in the late 1960s and 1970s (genotype V) was found.