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

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

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