The first isolate of a dengue virus in the Americas was obtained in Trinidad and Tobago in 1953, and several dengue virus isolates were obtained in subsequent years. However, the systematic isolation and typing of dengue viruses in support of virus surveillance and outbreak investigations did not start until the creation of the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC) in 1975. Since then, over two thousand viral isolates have been obtained and typed from many countries in the English and Dutch-speaking Caribbean. In this communication, virological data from 17 countries between 1977 and 1996 are presented and analyzed together for the first time with available epidemiological data. Types 1, 2 and 4 were isolated over the period, and geographic and temporal patterns in the distribution of the most prevalent strains are presented. The historical surveillance data is critically assessed. A temporal correlation with reported dengue incidence and rainfall data in Trinidad and Tobago is reported. Recent changes in epidemiological patterns are described, including reference to two large later outbreaks. Risk assessment of complicated forms of dengue virus infections in the Caribbean has been attempted, with some success. The importance of ongoing systematic surveillance is discussed.
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