Rio's Newest Problem: 'Super Bacteria' in the Water
And a nasty oil slick in Guanabara Bay, right where sailors are set to compete
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 5, 2016 10:21 AM CDT
In this June 1, 2015, file photo, a discarded sofa litters the shore of Guanabara Bay in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.   (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo, File)

(Newser) – Rio de Janeiro has been plagued by body parts on beaches, muggings, and Zika fears ahead of the Summer Olympics, and now a "super bacteria" has entered the mix. Brazilian scientists say the drug-resistant bacteria was found along the coast of popular beaches including Flamengo and Botafogo, both of which are near Guanabara Bay, where sailors will compete in August, CNN reports. "Every time you get some water in your face, it feels like there's some alien enemy entering," a German Paralympic sailor says, noting he believes a teammate's skin infection may have been caused by the polluted water. And pollution is likely what's causing the super bacteria to proliferate in a "variety of concentrations," lead scientist Renata Picao says, blaming the city's "fragile" sanitation system for the hazard. The researchers, who took samples from the bay as part of two studies in 2013 and 2014, explain the bacteria made its way into the bay and other local waterways via raw sewage from houses and local hospitals, per USA Today.

A director for Rio's water company, however, says about half of the city's sewage is treated—a substantial increase from 11% in 2009, he notes—and Picao says that despite her own team's findings, they're not recommending the sailing event be moved, as they don't yet know what risks the bacteria poses. Instead, she says, doctors should simply know that antibiotics might not work if athletes do get sick. Still, Picao doesn't take her kids to any of the affected beaches, which also include Leblon and Ipanema. "We still need more studies to tell what would be the risk to human health of this exposure through the water," she says. Adding to the bay's issues: an oil slick that turned sailors' boats brown, some complained Monday to the New York Post. "Your boat looks like a toilet," a Finnish sailor says her partner was told. (More cheerful news from the Olympics: the first set of triplets to compete.)
 

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