Olympians headed to Rio de Janeiro have already been told to be cautious of the virus Zika.
But Olympic swimmers, sailors and windsurfers will have to look out for more than that, because the city’s waters have what health experts are calling a “petri dish of pathogens,” including bacterias that cause diarrhea, vomiting and even death to those with weakened immune systems.
“Foreign athletes will literally be swimming in human crap, and they risk getting sick from all those microorganisms,” Dr. Daniel Becker, a local pediatrician who works in poor neighborhoods, told the New York Times. “It’s sad but also worrisome.”
Feces from a nearby sewage plant reportedly pours into the water untreated and human and animal dead bodies are found in the water with “upsetting regularity,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The government promised to clean up the waste in Guanabara Bay and the beaches surrounding Rio seven years ago, but officials admitted their efforts have fallen short. The Olympics start on Aug. 5.
But government officials say specific areas where athletes will be competing meet World Health Organization Safety standards. And windsurfers practicing on the more highly contaminated areas say it’s not a big deal.
“We just have to keep our mouths closed when the water sprays up,” Afrodite Zegers, 24, a member of the Dutch sailing team, which has been practicing in Guanabara Bay, told the New York Times.
That wasn’t good enough for those participating in a surf competition a few months ago. The venue of the competition had to be moved to Grumari when piles of trash floated up to the beach at the original location. But moving the location wasn’t enough.
“There were roughly 12 surfers last year that fell ill and had very similar symptoms to me. Nausea, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea,” Ace Buchan, one of the world’s top surfers, told Public Radio International. “That’s nearly a quarter of all the competitors, male and female.”
An Australian pharmaceutical company developed “super condoms” to give further protection against the Zika virus to their athletes, though regular condoms are supposed to protect against the mosquito-borne and sexually-transmitted disease. But right now it seems health officials have no solution for Rio’s waste-infected waters besides telling them to keep their mouths closed.