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

Now let’s flatten the infodemic curve - Infectious Thoughts

Sep 08, 2020

It’s likely you’re being exposed to masses of Covid information on a daily basis, and not all of it will be reliable. Here are some tips for telling the difference, and stopping the spread. Thanks to Covid-19, most of us have a new word in our vocabulary. Epidemiology: the branch of medical science that deals with the who, what, when, where and how of a disease in a population. Now it’s time to learn about infodemiology. We humans are a curious and innovative species. We want to understand the world around us and help solve the challenges we face. One of the ways we do this is by seeking out and sharing information. Lots of information. This means that at the same time as experiencing a pandemic, the world is also experiencing an “infodemic” – the overabundance of information that … Read More

What is the Covid-19 ‘triangle’? - Infectious Thoughts

Aug 31, 2020

Since this pandemic started, I’ve been getting lots of messages from people and hearing an awful lot of pundits who sum up Covid-19 as a simple case of virus vs person, with a binary outcome: the infected person either lives or dies. If only it were that simple, but there’s more to it than just the microbe against its unfortunate host – there’s also what I’ll call the “environment”. Together, these factors make up the disease triangle. It’s the differences between these factors in any given place or situation that are giving us the dynamic pandemic the world is currently experiencing. Let me explain. The microbe While viruses and bacteria have their own names, like humans they can come in different varieties. And sometimes those varieties can differ in how infectious they are or how much damage they can do … Read More

Why Covid elimination remains the best game-plan for NZ - Infectious Thoughts

Aug 25, 2020

Here in Aotearoa, we’re playing Covid-19 in “elimination” mode. Some countries are trying “suppression” mode, while others are running with what seems like “survival-of-the-fittest/wealthiest” mode. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been getting messages from people who don’t think our elimination game-plan is going to work. Some of them point to the fact we are currently experiencing an outbreak. Others send links to interviews with experts from “survival-of-the-fittest/wealthiest” countries, like the UK and the US. And others mention “flu” and the “common cold”. Is any of this evidence our strategy is failing or the wrong one for us to be following? I’ve explained before why I support elimination, but let’s start by making sure we are all on the same page about what elimination actually means for Covid-19. Because unfortunately, elimination is one of those tricky words that means … Read More

What does a robust Covid response look like for New Zealand? - Infectious Thoughts

Aug 23, 2020

Because we don’t have widespread community transmission of Covid-19 in New Zealand, our response managing our border and responding to any outbreaks will also help the rest of the world understand more about Covid-19. Let me explain how, and what I think a robust Covid-19 response looks like at least in the short term. Controls at the border are all about minimising the risk of further spread of Covid-19 from someone coming into the country with the virus. The current model of using a network of hotels overseen by the state is a good one, as is having an entirely separate facility for people who test positive for the virus and are more of a risk for transmission and needing medical attention. The isolation hotel network It may be useful to have the managed isolation facilities operate on a similar … Read More

They say, ‘learn to live with Covid-19’. Here’s what I say back - Infectious Thoughts

Aug 18, 2020

Around the world, different countries are taking different approaches to dealing with the global pandemic. Here in Aotearoa, our government listened to the advice of the overwhelming majority of its medical experts and scientists and settled on an elimination strategy, which we’ll call Plan A. But a vocal minority has been calling for us to take a different path, which we’ll call Plan B, or “learning to live with the virus”. Before I compare the two plans and see how they stack up, let’s start with a summary of what happens to people who get Covid-19. Deaths from Covid-19 A lot of people focus on the fatality rate of this virus – in other words, how many infected people die of the disease. It’s a surprisingly hard thing to pin down, partly because the data coming from … Read More

Why we’re adding masks to our Covid-19 toolkit - Infectious Thoughts

Aug 17, 2020

Lots of people might be wondering why we’re now being asked to wear face masks when we didn’t use them the first time we were stamping out Covid-19 in Aotearoa New Zealand. Back in April I wrote about how even the experts couldn’t agree whether masks should be worn by everyone. Some of that disagreement was based on different studies saying different things, and the worry that if everyone rushed out to buy face masks there wouldn’t be enough for those who really needed them. Now it’s August, and things have moved on a lot in four months. We certainly understand much more about how the virus is transmitted from person to person. Early on it was thought that coughs and sneezes were one of the main routes of transmission. Instead, it turns out that people … Read More

How genome sequencing could crack the case of the NZ Covid comeback - Infectious Thoughts

Aug 13, 2020

The novel coronavirus mutates as it travels between people and around the world. By sequencing the genome, we can try to work out which case is linked with another. As Aotearoa confronted its first cases of Covid-19 community transmission in more than 100 days, the director general of health, Ashley Bloomfield, raised genome sequencing – something which “may help us track where this virus has arisen from”. Here’s how that works. The virus responsible for Covid-19 is called SARS-CoV-2. Its genetic material is a strand of RNA made up of almost 30,000 nucleotides. Those nucleotides – adenine, cytosine, guanine, and uracil – are more commonly known by their abbreviations, A, C, G, and U. They code for the amino acids that in turn give us the proteins that make up the virus. Each time the virus enters a new cell … Read More

Don’t panic. We can do this. Together - Infectious Thoughts

Aug 12, 2020

Aotearoa surpassed 100 days without a case of community transmission of Covid-19. Last night that virus-free streak ended and we’re moving back up the alert levels.  For months now, we’ve been intercepting cases of Covid-19 at the border. But just as has happened in many other countries, somehow the sneaky bastard has got in. At a late press conference last night, Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield announced the country had four new Covid-19 cases that couldn’t be traced back to international travel or anyone working at the border or in managed isolation and quarantine. The four cases are all members of the same family. Now the race is on to break any chains any transmission from those four cases and find out how they got the virus. The good news is that the government is sticking with its “go fast … Read More

Victoria’s lockdown ‘an endless game of Covid-19 whack-a-mole’ - Infectious Thoughts

Aug 04, 2020

Siouxsie Wiles The restrictions in place for metropolitan Melbourne now are in some ways stricter than those that were in force during New Zealand’s COVID-19 lockdown. A curfew is in place and most people have to wear masks when they leave their home – neither of which happened in New Zealand. But the state of Victoria has lost valuable time to bring the outbreak under control. Stage 3 restrictions that came into force on July 8 for everyone living in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire provided too many opportunities for the virus to spread. As a result, there are now around 7,000 active cases, and still several hundred new cases each day. For more than 2,000 cases, contact tracers don’t yet know where people were exposed to the virus. My major concern with Victoria’s approach is … Read More

Four possible scenarios for the Australian and South Korean travellers - Infectious Thoughts

Aug 01, 2020

Over the last few days, reports have emerged of people travelling from New Zealand and testing positive for Covid-19 upon arrival at their destination. First in South Korea and now in Australia. What might these positive tests mean? They’re false-positives As Toby Morris and I have explained before, there are different ways to test someone for Covid-19. The main ways are to look for the presence of viral RNA or to look to see whether the person has made antibodies to the virus. Depending on which test is used, there are different chances of false-positives and false-negatives. You can read more about that here. That’s why the Ministry of Health will want more information about what test was used and in the case of the man testing positive in South Korea asked for a second test. They’re positive … Read More