A New Menace Joins the List of Problems for Rio Olympics

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Zika, rampant crime and polluted water, oh my!

Rio de Janeiro is facing a daunting — and growing — list of problems, and it has less than a month to deal with them before playing host to South America’s first Olympic Games. The latest menace to join Rio’s long list of problems: super bacteria.

Brazilian scientists detected the drug-resistant bacteria growing in the waters off some of Rio’s beaches, where some Olympians are scheduled to compete in August, CNN reports.

“We have been looking for ‘super bacteria’ in coastal waters during a one-year period in five beaches,” lead researcher Renata Picao told CNN. “We found that the threats occur in coastal waters in a variety of concentrations and that they are strongly associated with pollution.”

Picao said the bacteria likely entered Rio’s waterways when raw sewage from local hospitals was channeled into Guanabara Bay. The bay is well-known for its sewage-infested waters and pollution, which breed bacteria and viruses. Picao believes the city’s fragile sanitation infrastructure is to blame.

“This bacteria colonizes the intestine and it goes along with feces to the hospital sewage,” Picao said. “We believe that hospital sewage goes into municipal sewage and gets to the Guanabara Bay or to other rivers and finally gets to the beach.”

The Flamengo and Botafogo beaches, which border the bay where Olympic sailing events are scheduled to take place, and Leblon and Ipanema beaches, which are hot spots for tourists, all tested positive for the bacteria.

Sailors also recently have complained that an oil slick in the bay turned their white boats brown, the Associated Press reports.

“We’ve never seen anything like this. It was all over the place,” Finnish sailor Camilla Cedercreutz told the AP. “There was no way you could avoid it.”

Independent tests by the AP found that dangerous pathogens exist in Rio’s Olympic waterways both near land and far offshore, which means Olympians competing in swimming events near the shore and Olympic sailors competing further out are all at risk.

“It’s not just along the shoreline, but it’s elsewhere in the water. Therefore, it’s going to increase the exposure of the people who come into contact with those waters,” explains Kristina Mena, a waterborne virus expert and an associate professor of public health at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “We’re talking about an extreme environment, where the pollution is so high that exposure is imminent and the chance of infection very likely.”

The U.S. Olympic Rowing Team will be wearing new, high-tech anti-microbial training suits when they compete in Rio in August, according to the AP, but some risk of contracting a virus from the contaminated waters still exists.

Despite the potential health risks, it appears Guanabara Bay will still be a venue for Olympic competitions.

“I wouldn’t say to change the venues because we don’t know the risks yet,” Picao said. “We are making this alert because if athletes get infected there is a chance this bacteria is multi-resistant and the physicians should know about this.”

With less than a month before the opening ceremony of the Rio Summer Games, the city of 12 million is also dealing with political upheaval, rampant crime and the Zika virus, which has led some athletes to withdraw from the Rio Games.

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