BACKGROUND: Dengue incidence is rising globally which was estimated 100 million per year, whereas in Indonesia was estimated 7.5 million per year. Dengue clinical course varies from mild dengue fever (DF) to dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF) or dengue shock syndrome (DSS). Patients, clinicians and care facilities would benefit if reliable predictors can determine at admission which cases with clinically suspected dengue will progress to DHF or DSS. METHODS: From 2009 through 2013, a cohort of 494 children admitted with clinically suspected dengue at a tertiary care hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, was followed until discharge. We evaluated the clinical course and disease outcome of admitted patients and estimated the burden of dengue cases hospitalized over time. RESULTS: Of all 494 children, 185 (37%) were classified at admission as DF, 158 (32%) as DHF and 151 (31%) as DSS. Of DF patients, 52 (28%) progressed to DHF or DSS, 10 (5%) had other viral diseases. Of DHF patients, 9(6%) progressed to DSS. Of 33 routinely collected parameters at admission, duration of fever ≤4 days was the only significant predictor of disease progression (P = 0.01). Five cases (3%) admitted with DSS died. Between 2009 and 2013, annual dengue admissions declined, while distribution of disease severity remained stable. CONCLUSIONS: Almost a third of children admitted to tertiary care with clinically suspected DF progress to DHF or DSS. Among routinely collected parameters at admission, only fever duration was significantly associated with clinical progression, emphasizing unpredictability of dengue disease course from parameters currently routinely collected.