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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazilian organizers of the 2016 Olympics are creating a task force to deal with a so-called "super bacteria" discovered in Olympic sailing waters.
In a statement Wednesday, organizers said they were in contact with specialists from the Instituto Oswaldo Cruz, the respected research foundation that announced the discovery earlier this week.
Bacteria producing the so-called KPC enzyme that makes them drug resistant and notoriously difficult to treat were found in water samples taken from the Carioca River, which cuts through several high-end Rio de Janeiro neighborhoods and flows onto Flamengo beach.
The beach is located on the Guanabara Bay, where the sailing and wind surfing events at the 2016 Games are to be held.
With the lion's share of sewage in this city of 12 million going untreated and flowing, raw, into the bay and onto area beaches, Rio's water quality has become a hot-button issue ahead of the games.
As part of the Olympic bid, officials pledged to slash by 80 percent the amount of raw sewage and garbage swept into the bay, but environmentalists complain that little progress has yet been made. Athletes at a test event in August complained about the stench of sewage, as well as the presence of potentially dangerous floating objects and trash.
Rio state's environmental authority acknowledged Tuesday that the super bacteria, which is generally found only in hospitals, was also first found on Flamengo beach in 2013 and has also been detected on the neighboring Botafogo beach but downplayed any possible health risks.
A statement quoted agency head Isaura Fraga as saying the bacteria are "not very resistant in the environment, particularly in salty waters."
"There's no need to be alarmist," Fraga was quoted as saying. She also stressed that there have been no reports at area public hospitals of people being infected with the bacteria outside of hospitals.
The statement also quoted Renata Cristina Picao, a researcher at Rio de Janeiro's Federal University, as saying the bacteria "only represents a risk among those people whose immune systems are already debilitated" — such as patients in intensive care units.
Still, athletes have sounded alarm bells.
At a ceremony Tuesday honoring Brazil's top Olympic athletes, sailor Martine Grael — daughter of five-time Olympic medalist Torben Grael — called the discovery of the bacteria "a shame, and something that authorities have to address."
She and fellow award recipient Kahena Kunze urged officials to go out on the water with them to appreciate the extent of the pollution in Guanabara Bay.
"We are training there practically every day and the situation is worse every day," UOL internet portal quotes Kunze as saying. "We have complained lots but nothing has changed."
It wasn't immediately clear how the bacteria ended up in the river, but Rio's environmental agency is investigating whether any of the hospitals along the banks of the river are pumping raw sewage directly into the river, a statement from the state environmental secretariat said.
The Center for Disease Control in the United States says the KPC, or klebsiella pneumoniae carbapenemase, enzyme was first identified in the late 1990s, with outbreaks since reported across the U.S. and in countries around the globe. Resistant to most modern antibiotics, KPC is treated with highly-toxic drugs that in Brazil are available only in hospitals.
Associated Press writers Stan Lehman in Sao Paulo and Stephen Wade in Rio, and Filipe de Almeida of SNTV contributed to this report.
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