Dengue virus causes dengue fever, a mild febrile illness, and at times dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF), a severe illness the pathogenesis of which is not fully understood. Given the crucial roles played by interleukin-8 (IL-8) as a chemoattractant cytokine and in inflammatory processes, levels of circulating IL-8 in the sera and IL-8 mRNA in the peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) were measured in 99 patients of a recent dengue epidemic that occurred in India in 1996 and in 21 normal healthy controls. Twenty-six of the patients had dengue fever (DF) and the remaining 73 were diagnosed as having different grades of DHF. All the control normal sera were negative for IL-8, so were their PBMC for IL-8 mRNA. Increased levels of IL-8 in the sera and IL-8 mRNA in their PBMC were observed in patients with severe illness of DHF grades III and IV. Only two out of 26 patients of DF and one out of 10 DHF grade I patient were positive for IL-8 and all three deteriorated to DHF grade IV within 24 hr. All six patients of DHF grade IV who died had higher serum level of IL-8 above 200 pg/ml, the highest being 5,568 pg/ml in one patient; the presence of mRNA for IL-8 was very high in all patients. A striking correlation was observed between increased levels of IL-8 and severe DHF, with greater levels in patients with increased grade of the disease and death. These results suggest that IL-8 may have an important role and may be an indicator of increasing severity of the disease and death.