A group of Brazilian scientists has just discovered a drug-resistant super-bacteria growing off some of Rio de Janeiro’s beaches, with less than a month to go until the 2016 Olympic Games officially commence, which will be hosted by the city from August 5.
The bacteria, called Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, has the potential to cause meningitis, pulmonary gastrointestinal urinary tract and bloodstream infections.
While city officials are blaming illegal dumping for the contamination, it’s more likely based on the fact that a significant portion of Rio’s raw sewage goes untreated before it’s dumped into the ocean.
Super bacteria is a form of bacteria that has grown resistant to antibiotics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least two million people become infected with this kind of bacteria each year, causing 23,000 deaths. It can prove fatal for 50% of those afflicted.
Some doctors and scientists believe human dependence on antibiotics and antibacterial soaps is to blame for the development of drug-resistant bacteria.
The Brazilian group’s lead researcher, Renata Picao, said Rio’s “super bacteria” made its way into the city’s waterways through sewage from local hospitals, due to a lack of basic sanitation in the metropolitan area.
“We have been looking for super bacteria in coastal waters during a one-year period at five beaches,” she revealed. “We found that the threats occur in coastal waters in a variety of concentrations and that they are strongly associated with pollution.”
She explained that intestinal bacteria was transported in patients’ feces to the hospital sewage, which then found its way into Guanabara Bay, to eventually get to the beach.
According to the report, the most amount of super bacteria was detected at Botafogo and Flamengo beaches, where sailors will compete in the Olympics. It was found in as much as 90% of the water samples. In Copacabana, where the triathlon and open-water swimming competitions will be held, 10% of the water contained samples of the super bacteria.
Ipanema and Leblon, two beaches popular with locals and tourists alike, have also been affected at samples of 50 to 60%. Experts have likened it to competing in raw sewage.
When Rio bid on the games, they promised to clean up the bays and beaches. But the economy took a turn for the worse, and officials simply conceded that getting rid of all the pollutants was an impossible task by August.
As a result, their initial promise to reduce pollution by 80% went to a best-case scenario of “over 50%”.
The mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eudardo Paes, said the state was doing a terrible job at getting the situation under control.
“It’s completely failing at its work of policing and taking care of people,” he said. However, he confirmed that the city was being transformed for the event despite being “far from perfect”.
But the good news, according to experts, is that these superbugs can only really cause problems for those who are chronically ill with immunity problems. Therefore, they may not pose a strong risk for athletes or healthy travelers