There is a rapidly increasing chance that this years Summer Olympics in Rio will be cancelled. The banning of the Russian Track and Field Team for doping is a side issue, and were that the only problem the Olympics would go on quite happily. The massive pollution, disease, crime, and bacterial infection issues are quite another story,
Sponsoring the Olympics was supposed to force the city to clean up the polluted waterways. Waterways filled with raw sewage, hospital waste, and trash. That, quite simply hasn’t happened.
The diseases can cause infections, meningitis and lead to death.
Scientists have found dangerous drug-resistant “super bacteria” off beaches in Rio de Janeiro that will host Olympic swimming events and in a lagoon where rowing and canoe athletes will compete when the Games start on Aug. 5.
The findings from two unpublished academic studies seen by Reuters concern Rio’s most popular spots for tourists and greatly increase the areas known to be infected by the microbes normally found only in hospitals.
They also heighten concerns that Rio’s sewage-infested waterways are unsafe.
A study published in late 2014 had shown the presence of the super bacteria – classified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as an urgent public health threat – off one of the beaches in Guanabara Bay, where sailing and wind-surfing events will be held during the Games.
The first of the two new studies, reviewed in September by scientists at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in San Diego, showed the presence of the microbes at five of Rio’s showcase beaches, including the ocean-front Copacabana, where open-water and triathlon swimming will take place.
The other four were Ipanema, Leblon, Botafogo and Flamengo.
The super bacteria can cause hard-to-treat urinary, gastrointestinal, pulmonary and bloodstream infections, along with meningitis. The CDC says studies show that these bacteria contribute to death in up to half of patients infected.
The second new study, by the Brazilian federal government’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation lab, which will be published next month by the American Society for Microbiology, found the genes of super bacteria in the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon in the heart of Rio and in a river that empties into Guanabara Bay.
Waste from countless hospitals, in addition to hundreds of thousands of households, pours into storm drains, rivers and streams crisscrossing Rio, allowing the super bacteria to spread outside the city’s hospitals in recent years.
Renata Picao, a professor at Rio’s federal university and lead researcher of the first study, said the contamination of Rio’s famous beaches was the result of a lack of basic sanitation in the metropolitan area of 12 million people.
“These bacteria should not be present in these waters. They should not be present in the sea,” said Picao from her lab in northern Rio, itself enveloped by stench from Guanabara Bay.
Cleaning the city’s waterways was meant to be one of the Games’ greatest legacies and a high-profile promise in the official 2009 bid document Rio used to win the right to host South America’s first Olympics.
That goal has instead transformed into an embarrassing failure, with athletes lamenting the stench of sewage and complaining about debris that bangs into and clings to boats in Guanabara Bay, potential hazards for a fair competition.
The potential threat Zika virus poses is just too great to take the risk.
…If you ask me, I say cancel the Olympics. Here are five reasons why:
1. The numbers don’t lie. The World Health Organization’s Emergency Committee on Zika convened June 14 to consider new data and review previous recommendations, including those regarding the Rio Olympics. By August 5, more than 10,500 athletes, coaches and trainers will have descended on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In addition, more than 500,000 foreign spectators are expected to fly into the city. In doing so, they will be exposing themselves to the Zika-carrying mosquitos before returning to their home country. If you were a bioterrorist trying to expose as many of the world’s population as possible, I doubt you could come up with a better plan than this.
In a paper to be published shortly, the probable number of Zika cases during the Olympics was calculated using dengue transmission during the 2008 outbreak as a model. It found that, on the low end, there would be 1.8 cases per one million tourists, and on the high end, 3.2 cases per 100,000 tourists.
2. Brazil is not equipped to handle this crisis. The concern is not that tourists will fall ill while they’re at the games – though everyone seems to agree that pregnant women, at least, should stay away. The fear is that travelers will bring the virus home, either in their bodies or in the bodies of mosquito stowaways, and it will spread further. And there can be little doubt that holding the Olympics in Brazil as scheduled will greatly accelerate the spread of Zika.
Brazil is already having historic turbulence in their governance, economy and society. This is one developing country that is ill prepared to solve this problem, let alone do it in less than two months. While some have suggested concerns about Zika spreading are overwrought, let’s consider Brazil’s history with this virus. Nuno Faria of Oxford University suggested that a single individual carried Zika to Brazil in late 2013. By early 2016, as many as 1.5 million Brazilians are estimated to have been infected.
3. The WHO may have a conflict of interest here. Concerns have been raised about the WHO’s impartiality in this dialogue. It has been previously reported that the WHO entered into an official partnership with the International Olympic Committee, in a memorandum of understanding that remains secret to this day. There is no good reason for the WHO not to disclose this memorandum of understanding. It is standard scientific practice for potential conflicts of interest to be revealed – look at any scientific publication.
4. Clearly Brazil has a conflict of interest as well. Brazil has an obvious political and financial interest that the Rio Olympics going ahead as scheduled. It is doubtful that if the games would ever return to Brazil in the future if they don’t go on as scheduled. But changing the venue or postponing the games isn’t practical either. It has taken years for Brazil, like any other host, to gear up for these Olympics. If they don’t start as planned, they won’t proceed at all this year.
5. The stakes are just too high to risk it. There is no longer any doubt that Zika causes infants to be born with abnormally small heads and damaged brains. But there are still many key questions left to be answered. What is the degree of risk Zika infections might pose to pregnant women? That is, after an infection, how often will a fetus develop birth defects? Current studies suggest that somewhere between 1 percent and 29 percent of babies born to infected mothers have microcephaly. That is a pretty wide range. Researchers would also like to know when a developing infant is most vulnerable to the virus, and whether Zika may cause a spectrum of related problems, ranging from stillbirth and miscarriages on the severe end to learning disabilities on the milder end. They just don’t know at this time.
Bottom line – there is much we don’t know about the Zika risk. While expects can legitimately argue about the magnitude of the risk, nobody denies risk exists. David Hackworth once said, “It is human nature to start taking things for granted when danger isn’t banging loudly on the door.” The risk is potentially catastrophic – the Rio Olympics should be cancelled now.