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The findings from two unpublished academic studies seen by Reuters concern Rio's most popular spots for tourists and greatly increase the areas known to be infected by the microbes normally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.
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 super bacteria can cause hard-to-treat urinary, gastrointestinal, pulmonary and bloodstream infections, along with meningitis.
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, told Reuters the contamination of Rio's famous beaches was the result of a lack of basic sanitation in the metropolitan area of 12 million people.
The news comes as medical experts and scientists have been calling on the Brazilian government to delay the 2016 Rio Games out of fears of increasing the spread of the Zika virus.
However, the government argues that the virus has been put under control. Brazilian interim Health Minister Ricardo Barros said Friday the risk of catching the Zika virus during the 2016 Olympic Games is "almost zero."