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

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

Zika: a potential new mozzie vector? - Infectious Thoughts

Mar 04, 2016

Brazilian scientists announce Zika could be spread by a different species of mosquito, one more common in Brazil and present in countries like New Zealand. According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Zika virus is currently known to be transmitted by Aedes species mosquitoes, namely A. aegypti and A. albopictus. Media are now reporting that Brazilian scientists say they have succeeded in infecting another mosquito species, Culex quinquefasciatus, with the Zika virus in a laboratory. The report says the researchers injected the mosquitoes with Zika-infected rabbit blood and that the virus circulated through the mosquitoes’ bodies and into their salivary glands, meaning they might be able to transmit Zika to a person when taking a blood meal. What the scientists don’t yet know is if ‘wild’ mosquitoes are carrying the … Read More

Zika in NZ: sexual transmission or intrepid mosquito? - Infectious Thoughts

Mar 03, 2016

The New Zealand Ministry of Health are investigating a case of Zika in a woman who hasn’t travelled to a Zika-affected country recently. Is it a case of sexual transmission or a rogue mosquito? Update: I talked about this story this morning on RNZ’s Morning Report and TVNZ’s Breakfast on One. Also see my latest post about a potential new mosquito vector for the virus. Zika is a mosquito-borne virus currently infecting people in many countries in the America’s and the Pacific. The virus is causing concerns as it seems to be associated with an increase in babies being born with small brains and heads (a condition known as microcephaly). The New Zealand Ministry of Health say they are currently investigating a case of Zika in a woman who hasn’t recently travelled … Read More

Are 300 animals a day really tortured for scientific research in New Zealand? Part II - Infectious Thoughts

Feb 29, 2016

In the spirit of openness and transparency, I want to share what 42 animals that were involved in my 2014 research efforts experienced. I recently blogged about Paul Henry’s interview with NZ Anti-Vivisection Society (NZAVS) executive director Stephen Mason, in which Paul Henry repeatedly referred to the 300 animals a day tortured to death in the name of science. I’m paraphrasing, but you can watch the interview for yourself here. Stephen Mason was talking about the 2014 figures for the animals used for research, teaching and testing in New Zealand, just released by the Ministry for Primary Industries. He condemned the secrecy and lack of openness by publicly funded New Zealand institutions using animals. I agree with him. I wish that we would adopt a similar concordat to the UK in which … Read More

Are 300 animals a day really tortured for scientific research in New Zealand? Part 1. - Infectious Thoughts

Feb 23, 2016

“300 animals a day tortured to death.” is pretty much how Paul Henry recently reported the figures on the use of animals for scientific research, teaching and testing in New Zealand. A statement like that calls for some definite debunking! This month the Ministry for Primary Industries released the 2014 figures on the animals used for research, teaching and testing in New Zealand. You can read the report here but I’ve summarised it in FAQ form below. The NZ Anti-Vivisection Society (NZAVS) immediately put out a press release condemning the 38% increase in animals used compared to 2013 and the secrecy and lack of openness by publicly funded institutions using animals in New Zealand. NZAVS executive director Stephen Mason joined Paul Henry to discuss the figures on his breakfast show. And that’s how we ended … Read More