Expert: ‘Don’t Put Your Head Under Water’ in Rio

A medical expert offers advice to athletes and tourists traveling to Rio for the Olympics: “Don’t put your head under water.”

An Associated Press study of the water around Rio shows that it remains a giant cesspool despite promises to clean it up.

The AP study shows levels of bacteria reaching as high as 1.7 million times the acceptable levels in the United States. The Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon, site of Olympic rowing, and the Gloria Marina, where the sailing races begin, register as the most polluted waters. Whereas samples of the lagoon in 2015 showed adenovirus readings appearing in the billlions per liter, this June they appeared in the millions per liter. Though that shows some progress, the AP notes that in California a sample reading in the thousands might cause panic.

The news agency explains that their experts tested infectious levels at 90 percent of the sites they examined.

“That’s a very, very, very high percentage,” Dr. Valerie Harwood, chair of the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of South Florida, told the AP. “Seeing that level of human pathogenic virus is pretty much unheard of in surface waters in the U.S. You would never, ever see these levels because we treat our waste water. You just would not see this.”

Untreated sewage and the practice of treating waterways as dumps largely cause the problem. “Foreign athletes will literally be swimming in human crap,” Dr. Daniel Becker recently told the New York Times, “and they risk getting sick from all those microorganisms.” In addition to waste and debris, bodies of humans and animals occasionally appear.

The AP notes that tourists run a greater risk of sickness than locals because the immune systems of Brazilians generally build up a tolerance toward the microscopic dangers in the ocean. The raw sewage so thoroughly pollutes the water that it even pollutes the sand, which can cause sickness in small children playing in it.

Harwood, who issued the edict to keep heads above water, warns those who don’t of becoming “violently ill.”


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