Rio Olympics: Guanabara Bay and Five Beaches Test Positive For Super Bacteria, Water Polluted With Debris, Raw Sewage

The Olympic games are set to start in Rio de Janeiro on August 5th. Rio beaches and the lagoon that will be used for the games have tested positive for drug-resistant “super bacteria,” according to Reuters. The very water that athletes will compete in for swimming, rowing, canoeing and other sports.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies the super bacteria as an urgent public health threat. The super bacteria was first detected in Rio de Janeiro in 2014.

Guanabara Bay, where sailing and wind-surfing events will be held during the Olympic games, has also tested positive. The Los Angeles Times reports that two new studies found super bacteria on five of Rio de Janeiro’s beaches, including Copacabana which will host open-water and triathlon swimming. Other beaches infected with the super bacteria were Ipanema, Leblon, Botafogo and Flamengo.

The super bacteria can cause urinary, gastrointestinal, pulmonary and bloodstream infections, along with meningitis, that are difficult to treat because the bacteria is resistant to most antibiotics. The CDC says that these bacteria contribute to death of up to 50 percent of those infected.

A new study by the Brazilian federal government’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation lab found the genes of super bacteria in the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon and in a river that empties into Guanabara Bay.

Raw sewage is another problem plaguing the waters of Rio de Janeiro. The American Society for Microbiology found the genes of the super bacteria in the waste from hospitals, in hundreds of thousands of households, storm drains, rivers and streams across Rio which has allowed the super bacteria to spread.

According to Renata Picao, a professor at Rio’s federal university and lead researcher of the first study, the contamination of Rio’s famous beaches is due to a lack of basic sanitation in the city of 12 million people.

“These bacteria should not be present in these waters. They should not be present in the sea,” said Picao.

Rio made a promise in its bid for the Olympics to clean up the city’s waterways. They have failed. There has been no change in the sewage infrastructure. Guanabara Bay has a stench and debris floating in its waters.

Cedae, Rio’s water utility, is under investigation to determine if they are committing environmental crimes. Investigators also want to know where billions of dollars in funding has gone that was earmarked to improve the sewage system and clean up the waters of Guanabara Bay. Cedae blames the contamination of the super bacteria on illegal dumping.

Rio’s inability to properly sanitize its waste has caused endemic illnesses including severe heart and brain complications, gastrointestinal problems, respiratory problems, and Hepatitis A. The super bacteria is opportunistic. It can lie dormant until the immune system is compromised. The super bacteria also infects other bacteria, making them super bacteria as well.

Questions regarding water quality has been referred to state authorities by Rio’s Olympic organizing committee. According to Rio’s environmental agency, it follows recommendations of the World Health Organization which does not include screening for super bacteria.

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Add to that, the Zika virus showed up in Brazil last year and has spread throughout South America.

“It cannot possibly help when an estimated 500,000 foreign tourists flock into Rio for the Games, potentially becoming infected, and returning to their homes where both local Aedes mosquitoes and sexual transmission can establish new outbreaks,” Dr. Amir Attaran wrote in the Harvard Public Health Review.

“All it takes is one infected traveler, a few viral introductions of that kind, in a few countries, or maybe continents, would make a full-blown global health disaster.”

What does the super bacteria hold in store for the 1600 Olympic athletes? Should athletes be mandated to go compete in waters that contain raw sewage and super bacteria? Is it worth the health risk? Should Rio de Janeiro be fined for not fulfilling their promise and obligation to clean up the water for the Olympic Games?

[Photo by Felipe Dana/AP Images]