Monday, December 7, 2015

An Olympian’s Dilemma: Polluted Waters and Staph Skin Infections in RIO

Olympic sailors find themselves very concerned about competing in the sewage-infested waters off of Rio de Janeiro in next year’s games. The waterways in which the athletes are to compete are rife with pathogens both near shore and offshore, where raw sewage flows into the waterways from fetid rivers and storm drains.

These athletes are at risk for Staph infections because bacteria can enter the skin through scrapes and cuts the sailors may sustain while working among wires and other sharp objects onboard their vessels.

Skin and soft tissue infections are commonly caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. Signs and symptoms vary widely, depending on the severity and location of the infection, but typically include pus, redness, swelling, tenderness, as well as possible fever. MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a type of Staph infection resistant to many different antibiotics. Staph infections are treated with topical, oral, or intravenous antibiotics, depending upon the type and severity of the infection. However, antibiotics are not always effective in fighting Staph infections due to an increase in antibiotic resistance.

One of the Olympic sailors plans to wear plastic coveralls to protect himself while on the waters off of Rio, but this plan is not foolproof. The best course of action the sailor can take is to undertake preventive measures and work closely with a health care provider. The sailor should keep all cuts and scrapes covered well to avoid contact with polluted waters, and should immediately shower after getting out of the dirty water.  The athlete should seek immediate medical attention if a cut or scrape becomes red and tender.  Additional measures could include using bleach baths, 4% chlorhexidine washes, and/or sodium hypochlorite washes.  Bleach baths are cumbersome and chlorhexidine washes can be drying. A new alternative is the sodium hypochlorite formulated wash, which is marketed under the CLn SportWash brand ( The shower cleanser may be used daily immediately after exercise and is lathered onto the skin in the shower for 2 minutes, and then is  rinsed off thoroughly like any other cleansing soap.

The alternative to using a sodium hypochlorite cleanser is to take a bleach bath where one soaks in a tub of water for 10-15 minutes. The bath is comprised of one-quarter cup of  household laundry bleach in  a tub filled halfway  with water. Bleach baths can be cumbersome and may not be used above the neck, thus leading to poor adherence and compliance. For more information about bleach baths, please visit


Associated Press (2015): AP test: Rio Olympic water badly polluted, even far offshore. Retrieved December 5, 2015, from (2015). Bleach Like Products. Retrieved December 5, 2015, from

Ryan, C. et al. (2013). Novel sodium hypochlorite cleanser shows clinical response and excellent acceptability in the treatment of atopic dermatitis. Pediatric Dermatology. Retrieved October 18, 2015, from

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