Reappearance of chikungunya, formerly called dengue, in the Americas

Emerg Infect Dis. 2015 Apr;21(4):557-61. doi: 10.3201/eid2104.141723.


After an absence of ≈200 years, chikungunya returned to the American tropics in 2013. The virus is maintained in a complex African zoonotic cycle but escapes into an urban cycle at 40- to 50-year intervals, causing global pandemics. In 1823, classical chikungunya, a viral exanthem in humans, occurred on Zanzibar, and in 1827, it arrived in the Caribbean and spread to North and South America. In Zanzibar, the disease was known as kidenga pepo, Swahili for a sudden cramp-like seizure caused by an evil spirit; in Cuba, it was known as dengue, a Spanish homonym of denga. During the eighteenth century, dengue (present-day chikungunya) was distinguished from breakbone fever (present-day dengue), another febrile exanthem. In the twentieth century, experiments resulted in the recovery and naming of present-day dengue viruses. In 1952, chikungunya virus was recovered during an outbreak in Tanzania, but by then, the virus had lost its original name to present-day dengue viruses.

Keywords: Aedes aegypti; Aedes albopictus; Africa; American tropics; arthropod-borne viruses; arthropodborne viruses; chikungunya; dengue; flavivirus; history of medicine; mosquitoborne; mosquitoes; the Americas; togavirus; vectorborne; viruses; zoonoses.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Americas / epidemiology
  • Animals
  • Chikungunya Fever / epidemiology*
  • Chikungunya Fever / history
  • Chikungunya virus*
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging*
  • Dengue / epidemiology*
  • Dengue / history
  • Dengue Virus
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Zoonoses