Reappearance of Chikungunya, Formerly Called Dengue, in the Americas

Scott B. Halstead


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

In This Article

History of Chikungunya Name Change

Why then did chikungunya lose and dengue gain a name? Throughout the nineteenth century, astute observers of outbreaks in the Americas and India recognized the clinical differences between dengue and breakbone fever, principally the duration of fever and the occurrence of post-illness arthritis.[27–29] The term dengue was in use to describe an epidemic that reached India in 1871 from Zanzibar and eastern Africa.[30–32] However, once Reed and co-workers identified Ae. aegypti mosquitoes as the vector of yellow fever, the epidemiologic similarities between dengue and yellow fever led researchers in Lebanon, Australia, and the Philippines to investigate the etiology of dengue and the mode of transmission of dengue virus.[33–36] At that time, by coincidence, dengue but not chikungunya viruses were endemic at these 3 sites. Two groups, one in Australia and the other in the Philippines, apparently successfully transmitted virus from sick humans to healthy volunteers through the bite of infected Ae. aegypti mosquitoes[35] and Culex fatigans (now called C. quinquefasciatus) mosquitoes.[36] Ashburn and Craig successfully infected human volunteers by inoculating them with diatomaceous earth–filtered blood from patients with dengue, thereby proving a viral etiology for the disease.[36] It remained for Siler and Simmons and co-workers in the Philippines in 1923 and 1929 to definitively demonstrate that Ae. aegypti mosquitoes, but not C. quinquefasciatus mosquitoes, are a biological vector of dengue virus.[37–39] During the first half of the twentieth century, many experimental infections with dengue viruses were studied in human volunteers, and the clinical features of the infections were recorded in detail; all authors referred to the disease under study as dengue. In 1952, decades after these experiments were begun, a virus was recovered from an outbreak of an exanthematous febrile disease in Southern Province, Tanganyika Territory (now in Tanzania). The virus was called chikungunya, which in the Makonde language (spoken by an ethnic group in southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique) means that which bends up.[40] The name change was complete.