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

Should we all be wearing face masks to prevent Covid-19 spread? - Infectious Thoughts

Apr 06, 2020

Maybe you’ve seen the graph that says those countries where everyone wears a mask are the ones that have managed to keep Covid-19 under control? The first thing to say about that claim is that those countries also did lots of other things, too – they acted fast, with intense testing, contact tracing and quarantine. The reality is, when it comes to wearing a face mask there are pros and cons that differ depending on where in the world you are. I’ll get to these shortly. But this is a complicated one. Even the experts can’t agree on whether everyone should be wearing one. That’s raised accusations of racism as well as given life to several conspiracy theories. Face masks have become such a heated topic over the last few weeks that I’ve personally been harassed and threatened over … Read More

A note on apartments and bubbles - Infectious Thoughts

Apr 03, 2020

As Aotearoa enters week two of lockdown, it’s clear we’re all still working out what our “bubbles” look like and how to stay in them to stop the spread of Covid-19. New to the government’s Covid-19 website is some good guidance for people living in apartment blocks. Recent decades have seen New Zealanders in increasing numbers choose apartment living. And the alert level four lockdown presents its own unique challenges. The main thing to note is that an apartment block isn’t one big bubble. Instead it’s a collection of little bubbles that need to stay away from each other, just in case someone is incubating Covid-19. If you do live in an apartment block, here’s what that means for you. If you’re lucky enough to have communal areas like gyms and pools, sorry, but they must … Read More

Why those bubbles are so important - Infectious Thoughts

Apr 01, 2020

For almost a week now, every one of us who isn’t an essential worker has been confined to their bubble. We are allowed to go shopping for groceries, to visit the doctor, and to get a bit of exercise if we stay local. The reason we are doing this is to stop the spread of Covid-19 and to save thousands of lives. And that is no exaggeration. The Ministry of Health have just released the results of modelling led by Prof Nick Wilson from the University of Otago Wellington. As Ashley Bloomfield put it yesterday, they “paint a sobering picture of what Covid-19 would look like in NZ if we were not taking a decisive and strict approach to our response”. The worst-case scenario shows 146,000 people in New Zealand would … Read More

When will we know the lockdown is working? - Infectious Thoughts

Mar 27, 2020

Just before midnight on Wednesday March 25, Aotearoa New Zealand entered a countrywide alert level four lockdown. For at least the next four weeks, everyone who isn’t an essential worker is confined to their bubble. We are doing this to stop the explosive growth in people contracting and dying from Covid-19 that so many other countries are experiencing. Over the last few days, there have been more than 100,000 new confirmed cases globally. This number is likely a massive underestimate as many countries either can’t test every suspected case or are choosing not to. So, during this lockdown we have one really important job to do. And that is to stay in our bubbles and save lives. Understanding the Covid-19 lag I’m sure many of us have spent the first few days of lockdown trying … Read More

What does ‘level two’ mean – and why does it matter? - Infectious Thoughts

Mar 22, 2020

For the last few weeks, I’ve been urging you to prepare yourself, your family, business, and community for Covid-19. Now it’s time for real action.  Yesterday the director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced another 13 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, bringing our total to date to 52. Those cases include two that are potentially from community transmission. Shortly afterwards, prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced a four stage alert system for Covid-19. The alert system sets out how each and every one of us can stop the spread of this virus in New Zealand. Even though most of us will only experience a mild to moderate version of Covid-19, many of our whānau, friends and colleagues may not. That’s why it’s so important we take this virus seriously, and all play our … Read More

How testing for Covid-19 works - Infectious Thoughts

Mar 18, 2020

With confirmed cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand up to 12, many influential people are writing open letters and opinion pieces and doing press conferences asking why we aren’t pulling out all the stops and testing thousands of people a day like they are in South Korea. The thing is, testing for Covid-19 isn’t like a pregnancy test. You don’t just pee on a stick, wait a few minutes and get a result. Allow me to explain. Step 1: Take a sample To test for Covid-19 you first need the right samples, and these will differ depending on the person and the symptoms they present with. So, the first important thing is whether the right sample is taken by a competent person. To scale up our testing we would have to put resources into making sure we had enough people … Read More

After ‘Flatten the Curve’, we must now ‘Stop the Spread’. Here’s what that means - Infectious Thoughts

Mar 14, 2020

Spinoff cartoonist Toby Morris and I recently introduced you to the concept of #FlattenTheCurve. Now we want to get you thinking about a more ambitious idea: #StopTheSpread. But first, a quick recap. During an outbreak, if we can’t control the spread of the disease, then the number of sick people quickly rises. For Covid-19 we know this: about two out of every 10 people will need to be hospitalised for between two and six weeks. About one in 20 people will end up in intensive care, and one in a hundred will need a ventilator to help them breathe. But we only have so many hospital and intensive care beds and ventilators. And they aren’t just sitting around waiting for an outbreak. Lots of them are already being used to care for people with things other than Covid-19. In New … Read More

The three phases of Covid-19 – and how we can make it manageable - Infectious Thoughts

Mar 09, 2020

In a post last week, I showed you a picture of how the Covid-19 outbreak has played out in China. It was a graph of the number of cases reported each day, something we call an epidemic curve. It looked a bit like this. We can use the epidemic curve as a visual way to think about how Covid-19 could go, both here in Aotearoa New Zealand and globally. Toby Morris, The Spinoff. But before we get to that, let me just explain epidemic curves in a little more detail. First, they have three parts: a start (phase one), a middle (phase two), and an end (phase three). Each of these phases is influenced by different things. Such as, how infectious is the virus or bacterium? How is it transmitted? Is it person-to-person, or from eating or drinking? … Read More

How to get rid of Covid-19 from surfaces the right way - Infectious Thoughts

Mar 07, 2020

This week several more people in New Zealand have been confirmed to have contracted Covid-19, and the number of confirmed cases globally is approaching 100,000. We’ve been talking a lot about how this coronavirus is droplet spread so here’s the answers to a few questions people have been asking about that. But before I get on to that, I just want to mention that a paper has just been published that shows that this coronavirus can be found on surfaces in hospital rooms where people with Covid-19 were being treated. The good news is that they also sampled the air and didn’t find the virus there – in other words, it’s not likely to be airborne. And the other good news is that they weren’t able to find the virus in those same rooms after they had been … Read More

Can you catch Covid-19 from someone without symptoms? - Infectious Thoughts

Mar 05, 2020

The Ministry of Health yesterday announced a second person in Aotearoa New Zealand has tested positive for the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Just like our first, this person has contracted the virus overseas. This time it was during a trip to Northern Italy. The woman, in her 30s, had travelled with her partner, who has been tested. At the time of writing his results were imminent. It wouldn’t surprise me if we end up with a few more confirmed cases connected with this latest one, as it sounds as though the person may have been out and about for the last few days even though they weren’t feeling all that great. If we end up with an outbreak here, this is how it is probably going to happen. With us “soldiering on” when we should … Read More