Arbovirus epidemics in a geographic region are believed to depend on the presence of susceptible or "competent" arthropod vectors. We demonstrate that an urban, Aedes aegypti-borne, epidemic of yellow fever occurred in 1987 although the mosquito vector was relatively resistant to infection and transmitted the virus inefficiently. Twenty-six percent of the experimental mosquitoes from the epidemic area that ingested yellow fever virus became infected and only 7% of these transmitted the virus. In contrast, 80% of an exotic susceptible strain of Ae. aegypti became infected and 43% were able to transmit. We also show that no other potential vectors were active during the epidemic and that the local Ae. aegypti were present in extremely large numbers. These results document, for the first time, that, in the presence of high population density an incompetent mosquito vector can initiate and maintain virus transmission resulting in an epidemic.