Dengue is a systemic viral infection transmitted between humans by Aedes mosquitoes1. For some patients, dengue is a life-threatening illness2. There are currently no licensed vaccines or specific therapeutics, and substantial vector control efforts have not stopped its rapid emergence and global spread3. The contemporary worldwide distribution of the risk of dengue virus infection4 and its public health burden are poorly known2, 5. Here we undertake an exhaustive assembly of known records of dengue occurrence worldwide, and use a formal modelling framework to map the global distribution of dengue risk. We then pair the resulting risk map with detailed longitudinal information from dengue cohort studies and population surfaces to infer the public health burden of dengue in 2010. We predict dengue to be ubiquitous throughout the tropics, with local spatial variations in risk influenced strongly by rainfall, temperature and the degree of urbanization. Using cartographic approaches, we estimate there to be 390 million (95% credible interval 284–528) dengue infections per year, of which 96 million (67–136) manifest apparently (any level of clinical or subclinical severity).