Siouxsie Wiles

Dr Siouxsie Wiles is a research scientist with a background in medical and environmental microbiology. She has made a career out of combining her twin passions of bioluminescence (the production of light by living organisms — think glow worms and fireflies) and nasty microbes. In a nutshell, Siouxsie and her team make nasty bacteria glow in the dark to better understand infectious diseases. Originally from the UK, Siouxsie now leads the Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab at the University of Auckland. She was the 2013 winner of the Prime Minister's Science Media Communicator's Prize. Siouxsie is on Twitter @SiouxsieW

Crowdfunding a solution to a global crisis - Infectious Thoughts

May 22, 2017

Friday, the 19th May. Another day, another funding application rejected. My proposal? To search for new antibiotics from New Zealand’s unique fungi to help avert a global crisis that experts predict will soon be killing more people than cancer. This is the fifth time I’ve tried to get government funding for this project in the last 3 years. I’ve been lucky. A wonderful charity called Cure Kids has stepped into the void. They’ve given us $150,000 over the last couple of years so that we could employ a part-time technician to get this projected started and see if it’s worth pursuing. Our results are really promising, but time is running out and to make real progress we need more resourcing than just a part-time technician. That’s why Cure Kids have launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $250,000 for … Read More

A typhoid outbreak in Auckland: the hunt for the source is on! - Infectious Thoughts

Apr 01, 2017

According to news reports, ten people in Auckland have been hospitalised with typhoid, and health officials say we can expect more cases. So what is typhoid and why is this news? Typhoid is an infection caused by the bacterium Salmonella enterica subspecies enterica serovar Typhi, usually abbreviated to Salmonella Typhi or S. Typhi. Humans are this bacteria’s only known host. The bacteria can be passed from person to person through the faecal-oral route. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to wash their hands properly after they’ve been to the toilet, or changed any nappies. Typhoid can also be caught be eating contaminated food or drinking contaminated water. The symptoms of disease are a high fever which can last for weeks, as well as nausea, tiredness, headaches, and loss of appetite. Some people might have diarrhoea, constipation, or a … Read More

A future without antibiotics - Infectious Thoughts

Nov 24, 2016

Last week was World Antibiotic Awareness week, an initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) to raise awareness and understanding of antimicrobial resistance. To follow-up, here at Te Pūnaha Matatini we are having a week-long conversation about the health, social, economic, and environmental impacts of infectious diseases in Aotearoa New Zealand. In this post, I want to touch on what antimicrobial resistance is, and what a future without antimicrobial medicines could look like. What is antimicrobial resistance and what is causing it? Antimicrobials are chemicals that kill or stop the growth of microbes. But as microbes is the generic term for a multitude of life forms which differ in their genetic make-up, life-styles and habitats, so antimicrobials can be divided into different categories depending on what they target. Some antimicrobials work against all microbes, but others are more specific. Antivirals … Read More

InfectedNZ: the state of the nation - Infectious Thoughts

Nov 21, 2016

Today marks the start of World Antibiotic Awareness week, an initiative of the World Health Organization (WHO) to raise awareness and understanding of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. To coincide, here at Te Pūnaha Matatini we are launching a week-long conversation about the health, social, economic, and environmental impacts of infectious diseases in Aotearoa New Zealand. Where possible, in collaboration with Figure.NZ, we’ll bring you publicly available data to help illustrate the issues. Welcome to #InfectedNZ! Infectious diseases: complexity personified The phrase ‘infectious diseases’ describes a multitude of life forms which differ in their genetic make-up, life-styles and habitats. They lurk, hidden and unseen, on our skin, up our noses and in our guts. On our pets and livestock, too. And amongst our plants, rivers and soils. And when some of them get into our … Read More

Shopping trolleys and superbugs: an FAQ - Infectious Thoughts

Oct 03, 2016

A story about a baby catching a life-threatening infection from a shopping trolley has made the headlines. So what was this life threatening infection, and was the trolley really to blame? This story originally appeared in the DailyMail Australia which saw Vivienne Wardrop’s Facebook post warning other parents about shopping trolley hygiene. Her 10 month old son is currently recovering from what clearly looks like a serious illness, which his mum has narrowed down to him catching after being sat in a shopping trolley (or a cart, for any Americans reading this..). The article says the youngster had “adenovirus, rotavirus, salmonella and meningitis” so what are all those, and was the shopping trolley to blame? Salmonella and salmonellosis Salmonella is a family of bacteria that is divided into 2 species, S. enterica and S. bongori. S. bongori is found in cold-blooded animals, … Read More

Superbugs could kill more people than cancer by 2050 - Infectious Thoughts

May 28, 2016

Antibiotic-resistant superbugs are in the news again. This time a strain of E. coli resistant to the antibiotic colistin has been spotted in the USA. So why is this newsworthy and should we be scared?  A strain of E. coli has been identified in the USA that is resistant to the antibiotic colistin. A paper describing the strain has just been published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy (1). Colistin was discovered over 50 years ago but fell out of favour because it can damage a patient’s kidneys. Now it’s used as the antibiotic of last resort for treating infections caused by antibiotic-resistant strains of E. coli. This patient was lucky; the strain they were infected with was still able to killed by one last class of antibiotics so the patient was able to be treated. But it is just one step … Read More

A herbalist anti-vaxxer on Morning Report? I’d laugh if I weren’t so bloody furious. - Infectious Thoughts

May 17, 2016

After today’s interview with an anti-vaxxer, RNZ needs to do some serious soul-searching about its decision to give a platform to non-scientific nonsense.  As I write this my blood is boiling and I’m in a rage. There is a measles outbreak going on in the Waikato, with over 20 confirmed cases. It also looks like the virus has spread to the South Island, after a teenager who recently visited Hamilton returned home to Nelson with the disease. Despite what some people might believe, measles is not a harmless childhood illness. Infection with the measles virus can lead to life-threatening complications in up to a third of people infected. Complications like swelling of the brain (encephalitis), blindness, severe diarrhoea, ear infections and hearing loss, seizures and pneumonia.  Pregnant women who get measles risk having a miscarriage or going in to premature … Read More

Monday Micro: feminine beer?! - Infectious Thoughts

Apr 04, 2016

When I first saw news of this beer shared on social media, I thought it was an early April fool’s gag. But it appears not to be. Someone really is trying to crowdfund a beverage made with vaginal bacteria. If you haven’t watched the video, ‘The Order of Yoni’* are selling the idea that you can capture the “femininity, passion, sexuality” of a woman in a bottle of beer, by brewing it with microorganisms isolated from a woman’s vagina. And just in case you were curious, it’s not just any old woman’s vagina, but a “unique” one: model Alexandra Brendlova. Rest assured, they have spent many months using a “strict selection process” to find “a woman that personifies feminity (sic), natural charm and lure and who possesses all the desired instincts which we wanted … Read More

An update on Zika infection and pregnancy - Infectious Thoughts

Mar 16, 2016

New research which looked at the data from the 2013-2014 outbreak of Zika in French Polynesia, estimates that the risk of microcephaly is about 1 for every 100 women infected with the Zika virus during the first trimester of pregnancy. Zika is the virus spread by mosquitoes (and more rarely by sexual transmission) that is currently causing concern in over 30 countries and territories across the Americas and Pacific because of a potential link between infection during pregnancy and babies being born with smaller heads and brains (known as microcephaly). The last few weeks has seen a flurry of papers and reports strengthening that link. Now a paper has been published in the journal The Lancet which looks back at data from a previous outbreak of Zika, which happened in French Polynesia … Read More

New evidence supporting a link between Zika virus infection and microcephaly - Infectious Thoughts

Mar 05, 2016

Scientists have just reported that in the lab, the Zika virus can infect and destroy neural stem cells that give rise to the brain’s cerebral cortex. Updated 6/3/2016 to include links to new papers Zika is the virus spread by mosquitoes (and more rarely by sexual transmission) that is currently causing concern across the Americas and Pacific because infection during pregnancy has been linked to miscarriage and babies being born with smaller heads and brains (known as microcephaly). All sort of other explanations have been put forward for the rise in microcephaly cases in Brazil, including genetically-modified mosquitoes and pesticides. Today, scientists from the US have published a paper in the journal Cell Stem Cell in which they describe their experiments infecting neuronal stem cells with the Zika virus … Read More