An investigation by the Associated Press revealed that there are “dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in the Olympic and Paralympic venues.”
With just over a year to go before the start of the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, this information is deeply concerning. The medical director of the International Olympic Committee claims everything is on track to be safe to compete it, but further questioning revealed they were only testing for bacteria in the water, rather than viruses. The AP reported that these viruses are a result of untreated sewage flowing freely through the streams and rivers, into the Olympic waters. These “viruses are known to cause respiratory and digestive illness, including explosive diarrhea and vomiting, but can lead to more serious heart, brain and other diseases.”
A health expert in risk assessment for waterborne viruses from the United States, Kristina Mena, reportedly reviewed the data and believes that with only ingesting 3 teaspoons of the water, international athletes will have a 99% chance of infection. Those competing in open water swimming, triathlon, sailing, canoeing and rowing will all be at risk. Any of the viruses can enter the body through the mouth, eyes, any orifice, or small cut. Even those athletes out of the water in boats will be at risk because of mists and splashing.
There are several test events taking place in Guanabara Bay right now, and several of the athletes have fallen ill already. A sailing coach for Austria’s 49-class sailing team told the AP that these are the worst water quality conditions they have ever seen in their sailing careers. Sailors are being forced to keep bottled water on hand to instantly wash off any contaminated water that is splashed on them during training or a race. They shower immediately upon returning to shore and even then, sailors are still falling ill.