The early use of break-bone fever (Quebranta huesos, 1771) and dengue (1801) in Spanish.

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  • 1 Dengue Branch, Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases, National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, San Juan, Puerto Rico 00921-3200, USA.

The appellation of break-bone fever for dengue is attributed to the popular name given to the disease in the first described epidemic of an illness that is clinically compatible with dengue in Philadelphia in 1780. The origin of the word dengue as the name of an illness is currently attributed to the Swahili phrase Ka dinga pepo, thought to have crossed from Africa to the Caribbean in 1827; in Cuba this phrase was popularly identified with the Spanish word dengue. This article presents documents from Spanish archives that indicate the use of quebranta huesos (break-bone) by a physician in Puerto Rico to describe a febrile illness in 1771, and the use of the term dengue by the Queen of Spain in 1801 to describe an acute febrile illness with bone and joint pains, hemorrhage, and jaundice. These texts are evidence of a more generalized use of the term break-bone than previously recognized, and conversely, the specifically Spanish origin of dengue as the name for an illness.