Considerable uncertainty surrounds the evolutionary rates of and selection pressures acting on arthropod-borne RNA viruses (arboviruses). In particular, it is unclear why arboviruses such as dengue virus show substantial genetic variation within individual humans and mosquitoes yet low long-term rates of amino acid substitution. To address this question, I compared patterns of nonsynonymous variation in populations of dengue virus sampled at different levels of evolutionary divergence. Although nonsynonymous variation was abundant in viral populations within individual humans, there was a marked reduction in the frequency of nonsynonymous mutations in interhost comparisons. Moreover, intrahost genetic variation corresponded to a random pattern of mutation, and most of the sites that exhibited nonsynonymous variation within hosts were invariant at deeper phylogenetic levels. This loss of long-term nonsynonymous variation is the signature of extensive purifying selection such that more than 90% of all nonsynonymous mutations are deleterious. Consequently, although arboviruses are able to successfully adapt to diverse cell types, they are characterized by a high rate of deleterious mutation.