Olympic Athletes racing in Rio’s open waters are in for a rude awakening. The water in Brazil is so bad that if you swallow three teaspoons of it you have a 99% chance of contracting a virus or disease. That is according to the Associated Press, who revealed last year that waterways being used for competition contain 1.7 million times more raw sewage, bacteria and viruses then what would be acceptable in North America or Europe.
The waterways are filled with pathogens and disease because their raw sewage flows directly into major bodies of water. It’s basically being deep in everything that comes out of your toilet and sink. The Associated Press also found fecal bacteria, and an array or viruses in every venue where competition is taking place.
The U.S rowing team, in an effort to combat this issue has developed a anti-microbial unisuit, built to deflect moisture from contacting the skin. Experts say it’s a solid try but it will likely not be enough.
“They will literally be immersing themselves in very high levels of pathogens,” says Katherine Mena, who researches waterborne pathogens at the UT-Houston School of Public Health. “The infection risk will [still] be pretty high.”
Although the suit is good it still exposes their limbs and the material built into the suit might not be able to kill germs fast enough.
Biocides like metal, salt, halamine, or phenolic compound kill or inhibit some microorganisms when they touch the surface of a garment. But they won’t necessarily prevent infection. “Not all biocides can kill microbes fast enough,” says Gang Sun, who researches textile and clothing technology at UC Davis. Often the killer molecules don’t release from the fabric fast enough to meet the onslaught of microbes, or are plugged up by initial layers of dead bacteria cells.
Aside from contact to the skin or drinking the water, another concern is that a combination of heavy breathing and droplets of water could be enough over the course of a race to cause infection. Wearing a mask might be a precaution athletes take although no one has confirmed that just yet.
Some athletes are arriving early in hopes to build up their immune system; others are waiting until the last second to touch the water, hoping that any disease or viral infection will kick in after they finish competing. Either way, these risks are extremely unfair for any athlete to take although the athletes themselves are preparing to battle.
This is of course, all happening in addition to the Zika virus.