About two-thirds of the world's population live in areas infested with dengue vectors, mainly Aedes aegypti. All four dengue viruses are circulating, sometimes simultaneously, in most of these areas. It is estimated that up to 80 million persons become infected annually although marked underreporting results in the notification of much smaller figures. Currently dengue is endemic in all continents except Europe and epidemic dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF) occurs in Asia, the Americas and some Pacific islands. The incidence of DHF is much greater in the Asian countries than in other regions. In Asian countries the disease continues to affect children predominantly although a marked increase in the number of DHF cases in people over 15 years old has been observed in the Philippines and Malaysia during recent years. In the 1990's DHF has continued to show a higher incidence in South-East Asia, particularly in Viet Nam and Thailand which together account for more than two-thirds of the DHF cases reported in Asia. However, an increase in the number of reported cases has been noted in the Philippines, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, India, Singapore and Sri Lanka during the period 1991-1995 as compared to the preceding 5-year period. In the Americas, the emergence of epidemic DHF occurred in 1981 almost 30 years after its appearance in Asia, and its incidence is showing a marked upward trend. In 1981 Cuba reported the first major outbreak of DHF in the Americas, during which a total of 344,203 cases of dengue were notified, including 10,312 severe cases and 158 deaths. The DHF Cuban epidemic was associated with a strain of dengue-2 virus and it occurred four years after dengue-1 had been introduced in the island causing epidemics of dengue fever. Prior to this event suspected cases of DHF or fatal dengue cases had been reported by five countries but only a few of them fulfilled the WHO criteria for diagnosis of DHF. The outbreak in Cuba is the most important event in the history of dengue in the Americas. Subsequently to it, in every year except 1983, confirmed or suspected cases of DHF have been reported in the Region. The second major outbreak in the Americas occurred in Venezuela in 1989 and since then this country has suffered epidemics of DHF every year. Between 1981 and 1996 a total of 42,246 cases of DHF and 582 deaths were reported by 25 countries in the Americas, 53% of which originated from Venezuela and 24% from Cuba. Colombia, Nicaragua and Mexico have each reported over 1,000 cases during the period 1992-1996. About 74% of the Colombian cases and 97% of the Mexican cases were reported during 1995-1996. A main cause of the emergence of DHF in the Americas was the failure of the hemispheric campaign to eradicate Aedes aegypti. Following a successful period that resulted in the elimination of the mosquito from 18 countries by 1962, the programme began to decline and as a result there was a progressive dissemination of the vector so that by 1997 with the exception of Canada, Chile and Bermuda, all countries in the Americas are infested. Other factors contributing to the emergence/re-emergence of dengue/DHF include the rapid growth and urbanization of populations in Latin America and the Caribbean, and increased travel of persons which facilitates dissemination of dengue viruses. Presently, all four dengue serotypes are circulating in the Americas, thus increasing the risk for DHF in this region.