Reappearance of Chikungunya, Formerly Called Dengue, in the Americas

Scott B. Halstead


Emerging Infectious Diseases. 2015;21(4):557-561. 

In This Article

The Chikungunya Epidemic of 1827–1828

According to a contemporary medical observer of the chikungunya epidemic of 1827–1828, S. Henry Dickson, Professor of Medicine, Medical College of South Carolina,

"[A]n arthritic fever with cutaneous exanthema [ [2]]… appeared first in the island of St. Thomas, the chief town of which it invaded in September, 1827, attacking in rapid succession almost every individual in a population of about 12,000. Towards the end of October, it passed over to the neighbouring island of St. Croix. We hear of it, in November, in St. Bartholomew's, and in Antigua in January, 1828. It prevailed at Havanna [sic] in the succeeding April, at New Orleans in May and June; and in July and August affected very generally the inhabitants of Charleston, South Carolina, and reached Savannah (Georgia) in September and October." [3]

On clinical evidence, this outbreak was caused by chikungunya virus. However, that clinical evidence is supplemented by the eyewitness report and the epidemiologic detective work of James Christie, physician to His Excellency Syud Bargash, Sultan of Zanzibar, 1865–1873. In his report, published in the British Medical Journal in 1872, Christie described the onset in July 1870 on Zanzibar of an acute febrile exanthem that rapidly achieved epidemic proportions.[4] He himself was sick and in early convalescence experienced "pain on rising from my chair [that] was very severe after a short interval of rest….I suffered severely [from joint pain] for more than two months afterward".[4] From older patients in his practice, Christie learned that there had been a similar epidemic on Zanzibar 48 years earlier that was known by the Swahili term kidinga pepo (also called kidenga or kidyenga pepo). In this phrase, "ki… simply means 'a kind of,'" the word "dinga or dyenga… means sudden cramp-like seizure," and "pepo, means wind and also a spirit… so that the full designation of the term signifies a disease characterized by a sudden cramp-like seizure, caused by an evil spirit".[5]