- The Dominican Republic has seen a spate of widely publicized tourist deaths and illnesses.
- The website IWasPoisoned.com has also experienced an unprecedented wave of reports from people saying they fell ill in the Dominican Republic.
- The website has been flooded with about 1,600 reports concerning the Dominican Republic in 2019 – up from 10 in 2018.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
She hadn’t felt quite right since her stay at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana, a bastion of resorts in the Dominican Republic. But during her first night back in the US, she awoke feeling severely nauseated.
“I couldn’t even text anybody in my house to say, ‘I’m sick. Come help me,'” Goldberg told Business Insider. “That’s how bad it was. Vomit was just everywhere. I slept in it. I just accepted my fate.”
Business Insider spoke with five Americans who said they fell ill while visiting the Dominican Republic recently. They all reported their experience on IWasPoisoned.com after an explosion in media coverage of tourist deaths and illnesses in the Dominican Republic.
And they’re not alone.
Patrick Quade, the founder of IWasPoisoned.com, said he has seen an unprecedented spike in “highly unusual data” concerning Punta Cana resorts this year.
At this point, IWasPoisoned.com has received 1,600 reports of suspected poisonings in the Dominican Republic in 2019. That’s up from 10 reports in 2018.
About 100 of those reports detail tales of illness from 2018 and earlier. The reviewer Rose Chambers told Business Insider that she fell ill at Secrets Cap Cana at the end of a four-day trip in October 2018.
She said that despite the fact she and her three travelling companions all ate the same food, she was the only one to become sick.
“The flight attendant recommended that I be taken off the plane in a wheel chair because I was so sick,” she told Business Insider.
But the majority of IWasPoisoned.com reviewers described incidents that occurred in 2019. More than 700 specifically mention the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana.
IWasPoisoned.com functions a bit like a Yelp for bouts of food poisoning, so these reports are largely unverified. But Quade said the volume of the reports is striking, especially considering the fact that some reviewers were citing cases in which multiple members of their party fell ill.
“Based on the volume and content of reports, we are highly confident this should be viewed as a serious problem,” he told Business Insider.
Lee-Ann Jaykus, a microbiologist and professor of food science at North Carolina State University who reviewed the data collected by IWasPoisoned.com, agreed.
“It’s a huge outbreak if you have more than 250 people sick,” Jaykus told Business Insider.
Jaykus added that many of the reports include details that don’t jibe with typical cases of foodborne disease, which typically doesn’t see victims experiencing severe vomiting and diarrhoea for an extended period of time. She said this prompted her to consider that the Dominican Republic might not be experiencing a “typical” outbreak of foodborne illness.
Authorities haven’t yet released anything about the cause of these illnesses and deaths.
“We are closely monitoring ongoing investigations by Dominican authorities into several recent deaths of U.S. citizens in the Dominican Republic,” a spokesperson for the US Embassy in the Dominican Republic told Business Insider in a statement. “We offer our sincerest condolences to the families for their losses, and continue to provide all appropriate consular services. Our Embassy in Santo Domingo has been actively engaging with Dominican authorities to ensure thorough and timely investigations.”
Business Insider reached out to Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, which said that it is not involved in the investigations and has not received a request for help from authorities in the Dominican Republic. The FBI did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
“At the request of Dominican authorities, the FBI continues to assist with the ongoing local investigation, to include support with toxicology as well as the arrival of a small team of FBI personnel in the Dominican Republic,” a FBI spokesperson told Business Insider, echoing an early statement from the US Embassy.
The spokesperson said that they “have not seen an uptick in the number of U.S. citizen deaths reported to the Department,” despite the increased media scrutiny. They added that the US Travel Advisory for the country “remains at a Level 2 and advises U.S. citizens to exercise increased caution in the Dominican Republic due to crime.”
“We have no higher priority than the safety and welfare of U.S. citizens abroad,” the US Embassy spokesperson said in a statmeent. “Millions of Americans travel to the Dominican Republic every year. While the overwhelming majority travel without incident, we want to assure all Americans that we continue to work actively with the Dominican authorities at the very highest levels to ensure that U.S. citizens are safe and feel safe while in the Dominican Republic.”
The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Bahia Principe, and Secrets Cap Cana, three of the Punta Cana resorts where tourists say they fell ill, also did not immediately respond for comment.
For now, travellers who’ve dealt with illness in the Dominican Republic are left to mull over the piña colada that made them feel dizzy, the beverage that they had to ask for multiple times, or the fish that tasted wrong at dinner.
Media reports have linked the spate of tourist deaths to bootleg alcohol. But two tourists who asked not to be named said that members of their party who didn’t drink – in one case, young children – also fell violently ill. Both said they stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel and fell ill after dining at the resort’s Toro restaurant, which serves a buffet-style spread for breakfast and lunch and steak a la carte for dinner.
Goldberg told Business Insider that the only odd part of her stay at the Hard Rock Hotel in February was the amount of time it took wait staff to supply her with Diet Coke.
“My mum would order an ice tea, and I would get a Diet Coke,” Goldberg said. “She’d get hers right away. I’d have to ask like five times until I got mine. That happened every time. It was so bizarre.”
Zach Gordon, a physician who stayed with his family at the Hard Rock last month, said he had a great experience at the resort overall. Still, after dining at the resort’s Italian restaurant, Ciao, Gordon ended up “vomiting most of the night.” He recovered after 24 hours.
The only thing that Gordon said he ate that his wife and two young daughters didn’t was the red snapper, which he’d tried and enjoyed a few nights before. On the second go, he thought the red snapper tasted “overcooked.”
When Gordon reported his sickness to the Hard Rock, he said he was told that the resort hadn’t received any such reports for several weeks. Gordon said he personally believes he just came down with “classic food poisoning” and that the series of tourist deaths were caused by something else.
“I know that sometimes the simplest solution is the correct solution, but I actually think there’s a couple things going on,” Gordon said.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.