The disease was first was first detected in 1952 in Africa following an outbreak on the Makonde Plateau. This is a border area between Mozambique and Tanzania. The virus was isolated from the serum of a febrile patient from this area. The name chikungunya is derived from the Makonde word meaning "that which bends up" in reference to the stooped posture developed as a result of the arthritic symptoms of the disease. In Swahili this means "the illness of the bended walker”. Makonde is the language spoken by the Makonde, an ethnic group in southeast Tanzania and northern Mozambique.
According to the initial 1955 report about the epidemiology of the disease, the term 'chikungunya' is derived from the Makonde root verb kungunyala, meaning to dry up or become contorted. The Makonde term was more specifically referred to as "that which bends up". Subsequent authors apparently overlooked the references to the Makonde language and assumed that the term derived from Swahili, the lingua franca of the region. The erroneous attribution of the term as a Swahili word has been repeated in numerous print sources. Many other erroneous spellings and forms of the term are in common use including "Chicken guinea", "Chicken gunaya," and "Chickengunya".
Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) likely originated in Central/East Africa, where the virus has been found to circulate in a sylvatic cycle between forest-dwelling mosquitoes and nonhuman primates. In these areas, sporadic human cases occur, but large human outbreaks were not common. However, in urban centers of Africa as well as throughout Asia, the virus can circulate between mosquitoes and naive human hosts in a cycle similar to that of dengue viruses.
Since its discovery in Africa, in 1952, chikungunya virus outbreaks have occurred occasionally, but recent outbreaks have spread the disease to other parts of the world. Numerous chikungunya re-emergences have been documented in Africa, Asia (India), and Europe, with irregular intervals of 2–20 years between outbreaks. Currently, chikungunya fever has been identified in nearly 40 countries. In 2008, chikungunya was listed as a US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) category C priority pathogen.