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How bad is the water in Rio? Bad. Like, don’t-swallow-any-poop bad

Reuters/Ricardo Moraes
Keep your head up.
By Aamna Mohdin
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Olympic athletes competing in Rio’s beautiful waters are advised to keep their mouths shut.

That’s the latest advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), which has classed some swimming sites in Guanabara Bay as “poor or very poor.” The levels of pollution exceed even Rio’s lax water standards, according to the agency. With rotting corpses being pictured floating in the bay, that may be somewhat of an understatement.

Health experts warn that the government has failed to effectively address the tide of waste that has been polluting the city’s beaches for decades. Following an 18-month investigation, the Associated Press warns that over a thousand athletes in the water competitions are at risk of getting “violently ill.” The investigation found dangerous levels of viruses from pollution in the beaches and water, so much so that one biomedical expert went so far as to say: “Don’t put your head under water.”

“Foreign athletes will literally be swimming in human crap, and they risk getting sick from all those micro-organisms,” a Brazilian pediatrician told the New York Times (paywall). While many athletes are clearly concerned, others have shrugged off the risks and keeping their mind on one goal.

“At the end of the day, it’s about winning a medal, not staying healthy,” Canadian sailor Luke Ramsay said (paywall).

Local residents say this is a long-standing issue, which the government has ignored for decades. Some athletes who have been training at Rio for a while are reportedly taking preemptive measures, such as training in protective suits and taking antibiotics, to keep healthy.

The WHO—warning of the risk some athletes using these sites may end up with stomach upsets and respiratory tract infections—advises Olympic athletes and tourists to:

…cover cuts and grazes with waterproof plasters prior to exposure [to water], try to avoid swallowing the water, wash/shower as soon as possible after exposure and, as far as possible, minimize their time in the water and avoid going in the water after heavy rainfall if possible.

Swimmers and sailors will compete in the water next week after the Rio 2016 Games begin on Friday.

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