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Serotype is a fictional character, or a comic anti-hero, who embodies the experience of having dengue fever

A general overview of the idea

Based on the information collected during my ethnographic work focusing my attention on the everyday understandings of dengue fever, and paying particular attention to the different ways in which the subjects that have had dengue described the experience of being unwell, I decided to re-work (collaboratively) all the information to create elements that reflect the ideas of how dengue fever is understood in various different contexts (see here).

To reach this objective, I created a participatory experiment (ethnography by design) in which five artists, one virologist, two entomologists, and importantly, two subjects of my research that had previously suffered dengue fever, worked together to create the last ‘public experiment’ (please see note 1).

After a deep ethnographic work with Luis Fernando and Sara (you can find information about the ways in which they described the experience of being unwell by accessing this publication), we concluded that there is a lack of understanding and of connection between health authorities, the design of public health campaigns and fundamentally, the cultural beliefs attached to the disease.

Promoters of public health have not taken into consideration the points of view of the patients or those who have had the disease. They design campaigns based on an entomological and clinical point of view, following a standard template where you see health staff –dressed in laboratory coats– talking about environmental hygiene and the purposes of sanitation. In addition, humour doesn’t play a role in the design of the campaigns.

Simply showing the public the epidemiological and medical points of view is not sufficient and may be confusing. Therefore, I wanted to create a participatory experiment where public health problems were explored from anthropological and artistic perspectives.

Starting with the design

In order to collaboratively create an intervention that reproduces the way Luis Fernando and Sara experienced the disease, we asked Alejandro Uribe, Sarita Álvarez and Juan Camilo Ortega for their help. They are part of Bimana, a collective of artist that creates a variety of large-scale interventions and performances combining a solar balloon, plastic bags, kites, makeup, prosthetics design, and special effects.

The idea was to create a fictional character, or a comic anti-hero, that would appear in the public space of the city, creating an active dialogue with different peoples.

With the objective of situating our public experiment within the context of Colombian popular culture and ‘everyday life,’ we also invited Emilio Arango. He is a well-known actor who has represented many characters in educational campaigns that involve artistic interventions in the public space. With him, we meticulously studied what Sara and Luis had told us about their experience with dengue fever and mosquitoes to characterize ‘Serotype’.

We not only considered the symptoms of the disease (pain behind the eyes, aches, fever, joint pain and rash, to lethargy or restlessness, abdominal pain, persistent vomiting, and mucosal bleeding); we also took into account ideas such as social isolation, terrible headaches and insomnia.

We carefully followed every single movement and way of acting to produce a lot of emotions in the public. As you can see in the pictures, hundreds of people got involved, many of who took photos and played with ‘Serotype’. This was a complete success and all the team was very pleased with the final product.

Serotype + the mosquito-kite project

The mosquito-kite project was also part of the work with ‘Serotype’. This element helped us to produce a better context for the intervention. Thus, while ‘Serotype’ was acting, another of the team was flying the mosquito-kite, and the rest of the team were flying and distributing mini mosquito kites to children.

Locating the public experiment

This public experiment took place in an area that included the Explora Park, the Planetarium of Medellin, Los Deseos Park and the Botanical Garden.

This area is absolutely critical since the Planetarium of Medellin and the Explora Park are institutions which work to promote a ‘scientific culture’ through interactive exhibitions. They engage all kinds of public groups in discussions of scientific knowledge in areas such as biology, astronomy, physics, and chemistry. By doing so, they invite non-expert citizens to play an active role in knowledge-production activities.

Los Deseos Park and the Botanical Garden are crowded places that normally get very busy with families spending sunny days having picnics or walks while children play in fountains. This area is also full of artisans, street vendors, and musicians.

These places are located in a low- and middle-class area of the city, because of this, it was an amazing opportunity to interact with various different kinds of communities from different socio-economic and academic backgrounds.

*What does ‘Serotype’ mean?

‘Serotype’ is the name we chose for our fictional character. In the virological context, the concept of serotype refers to one of the four forms (please see note 2) or variations that dengue virus may take (you can find a general explanation in Wikipedia).

Dengue virus serotypes are named as DENV-1, DENV-2, DENV-3 and DENV-4. Although the pathogenic effect of DENV depends of the host-virus interactions, DENV-2 and DENV-4 have stronger pathogenic effect than DENV-3 and DENV-1. Likewise, Ae. aegypti mosquitoes tends to be more susceptible to the infection by DENV-2 (Armstrong and Rico-Hesse, 2003). Above all, DENV-2 strains belonging to the Southeast Asian genotype are more virulent than other strains (Armstrong and Rico-Hesse, 2003Cologna et al., 2005; Gutiérrez-Ruiz et al., 2012; Pawitan, 2011).


I firstly would like to thank the subjects of this ethnography Sara and Luis Fernando. I am extremely grateful with the ‘Bimana Producciones’ team (Alejandro Uribe, Sarita Álvarez and Juan Camilo Ortega), the kite-flyer Andrés Ramírez and the actor Emilio Arango. Special thanks go the virologist Carolina Quintero, and the entomologists Jovany Barajas and Manuela Herrera.

I would also like to thank the rest of the people that helped during the public experiment: Pablo López, Lucía Tobón, Sara Ibarra, Susana Valencia, Hernán Marín, Mario Valencia, and Gustavo Ramírez.

I would finally thank my supervisors, Dr. Rupert Cox and Prof. Maia Green, for their permanent support; and COLCIENCIAS, the Colombian National Science Foundation that provided me with the scholarship for my studies.

This project was partially funded by The University of Manchester.


1 What I mean with 'public experiment' is to create a reflexive relationship between different people that are seen as objects and subjects of knowledge across their disciplines – to explore more please see Da Costa and Philip (2008) and Barry and Born (2010).

2 In the post ‘New dengue virus serotype’ (PhD blog) I referenced the news of a virus collected during an outbreak in Malaysia's Sarawak state that presumably has a huge divergence from the other four serotypes. Although the official publication doesn’t exist, this may be the fifth dengue serotype.

‘Serotype’ was produced by:
research paper