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

The science behind the Impossible Burger - Infectious Thoughts

Jul 05, 2018

Air New Zealand has just announced The Impossible Burger is now available to a minuscule number of their customers, a move described as an “existential threat” by New Zealand First’s Mark Patterson. So what is all the fuss is about? This week, Air New Zealand announced that Business Premier “foodies” on their Los Angeles to Auckland flights would be able to try out the “plant-based goodness” that is the Impossible Burger. Lamb + Beef New Zealand, which represents sheep and beef farmers, is clearly peeved that our national carrier wouldn’t rather showcase some great Kiwi “grass-fed, free range, GMO free, naturally raised” beef and lamb instead. Mark Patterson, New Zealand First’s spokesperson for Primary Industries even went as far as to put out a press release calling the announcement an “existential threat to New Zealand’s second-biggest export earner”. Meanwhile, vegetarians … Read More

Menstrual cups: let’s investigate! - Infectious Thoughts

Apr 29, 2018

After finding that there really have been bugger all studies done on menstrual cups and toxic shock, microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles ponders whether crowdfunding and open science might be the solution. Last week a new lab-based study came out about menstrual cups and toxic shock syndrome, the very rare but potentially deadly result of infection with the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. I wrote about what I think the study means here, here and here. One thing that appalled me as I was reading around the topic is that it appears menstrual cups have hardly been studied at all. Or if they have, the findings haven’t been published. I counted 14 relevant studies on the journal article database Pubmed. There’s this new one, an older similar lab-based study, three case studies, and 9 reports of actual clinical trials. Read More

The recent ‘period in a bag’ study: what it can and can’t tell us about menstrual cups and toxic shock - Infectious Thoughts

Apr 29, 2018

Recently, a lab-based study was published about menstrual cups, tampons, and toxic shock syndrome. In this post, microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles reflects on what the study can and can’t tell us about menstrual cups and toxic shock. If you need reminding, toxic shock syndrome is a very rare complication of a bacterial infection that can quickly result in organ failure and death. In a previous post (published here and here) I wrote about one of my take-home messages from the recent study (1): that bacteria may stick to menstrual cups as they are used over the course of a period, and if you just follow the advice of wiping or rinsing after each use, you could be putting a cup inside your vagina that’s becoming more and more covered in potentially harmful bacteria. My advice was to get … Read More

Menstrual cups and toxic shock revisited - Infectious Thoughts

Apr 29, 2018

Last week a new lab-based study came out, about menstrual cups, tampons, and toxic shock syndrome (1). In this post, microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles reflects on the various responses she’s had to her blog about the study.  If you need reminding, toxic shock syndrome is one of the bogey-men every menstruating teen is warned about – a very rare complication of a bacterial infection that can quickly result in organ failure and death. Journalists were soon calling me, asking what the study meant. They all wanted to know, are menstrual cups more dangerous than tampons? As usual, the answer was a little more complicated than a simple yes or no. As a microbiologist, one of the main conclusions I drew from the study was that people who use menstrual cups would be better off cleaning them more rigorously and more … Read More

Menstrual cups and toxic shock: no need for panic but rinsing is not enough! - Infectious Thoughts

Apr 25, 2018

A new study shows that menstrual cups and cotton tampons may not be as safe as people are being led to believe.   Diva, Fleur, JuJu, Kiko, Lunette, Me Luna, Mooncup, My Cup, Sckoon, Tāti, Wā, Yuuki. All cutesy names for the same thing: the menstrual cup – a ‘cup’ people insert into their vagina to collect blood during their period. Once the cup is full, it’s removed, emptied, given a rinse and popped back in. I have to admit that the very idea of a menstrual cup completely freaks me out. I blame the many hours I spent either sitting in microbiology lectures as an undergraduate or teaching students about nasty microbes as a university lecturer. Because I now know far too much about the (admittedly very rare but pretty deadly) bacterial disease toxic shock syndrome, as well as … Read More

It’s time for academics to stand up against bad science - Infectious Thoughts

Jan 12, 2018

Shocking revelations around a clinical trial of a new tuberculosis vaccine are just the tip of the iceberg. Maintaining public trust in science depends on open science. Ten years ago, Dr Ben Goldacre published Bad Science, a book described by The Economist as “a fine lesson in how to skewer the enemies of reason and the peddlers of cant and half-truths”. In his book, Goldacre slams the bull-shitters who misuse science, taking aim at detoxing and ‘brain gyms’, as well as ‘magical water’ homeopaths and pill-pushing fake PhD-holding nutritionists. Scientists like me shouted with glee. Goldacre followed that with Bad Pharma in 2012, subtitled ‘How medicine is broken, and how we can fix it’. The book revealed how the pharmaceutical industry manipulates drug trials, buries data it doesn’t like, and misleads … Read More

An open letter to the people of Whakatane (and the rest of Aotearoa New Zealand)* - Infectious Thoughts

Jul 02, 2017

As a parent, I know what it’s like to worry about whether you are doing the right thing for your child. When my daughter was born, I couldn’t quite believe that after just a few days in hospital we’d be going home in sole charge of a small infant. Didn’t they realise we were unqualified?! Aside from giving her a name she wouldn’t hate us for, one of the first decisions we had to make was whether we would get our precious two-day old baby vaccinated against TB, a nasty bacterial lung disease that was prevalent in the part of London where we lived. As it turns out, I’m a scientist, and TB is one of the diseases I study. But even though I knew what the TB bacterium does to the human body, and just how safe the vaccine … Read More

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