54 Jimmy Buffett fans from US fell ill during group trip to Dominican Republic, travel agent says
PUNTA CANA, Dominican Republic - About half the members of a Jimmy Buffett fan club from Oklahoma who traveled to the Dominican Republic in April got sick, the group's travel agent confirmed.
Dana Flowers, a member of the Central Oklahoma Parrothead Association, is also the group's travel agent. He said about 54 out of the 114 visitors who stayed at the Hotel Riu Palace Macao in Punta Cana fell ill during the trip.
"It was headaches, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, severe diarrhea and chills and fevers that type of thing," Flowers said. "About the third day in, we started to notice people not making it to events that we had scheduled and that's when we realized that people were getting sick."
He said at that time, visitors just assumed that it was "food poisoning or something of that nature."
"The common thread with everybody that did get sick is that they swam in the swim-up bar pool and/or they had a drink from the swim-up bar," Flowers said. "So it could be related to that pool."
Two members from the group tested positive for salmonella upon their return home after seeing doctors, he said.
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One Nebraska woman who attended the trip tested positive for salmonella last Wednesday, marking the third known case of infection.
"She's been sick, and she's had diarrhea every day since we've been back," Flowers said.
The woman's case was handed over to the CDC, "and they have escalated her testing further to see if they can determine a cause," he said.
"I personally think it has something to do with either the pesticides or insecticides that are used around the resort or the chemicals that they use in the pool," Flowers said. "Those are just my own thoughts and theory on it. Also food-borne illnesses as well."
Everyone from the trip has now recovered, except for the woman still suffering from salmonella, according to Flowers.
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The CDC and FBI are in the Dominican Republic investigating, and Flowers is "just kind of waiting to see what they determine," he said.
"If they determine some sort of negligence then, we'll go from there to see if there's any action to be taken," the travel agent said.
The Central Oklahoma Parrothead Association, which serves the greater Oklahoma City area, are a chapter of the national organization, Parrot Heads in Paradise.
"None of the PHiP board members were present, so we are not qualified to comment," said Sue Kermis, PHIP's director of membership.
Hotel Riu Palace Macao responded in a statement via their parent company Riu Hotels and Resorts.
"We are aware that three guests staying last April at this hotel and coming from the same group (of 120 people) were attended by a possible case of gastroenteritis in our doctor's office. These events occurred after an external activity of this group outside the hotel, so we can not determine the exact origin of the stomach upset," the hotel company said. "Having said that, no more similar cases were registered by other guests during the indicated date."
Representatives for Jimmy Buffett did not immediately respond for comment.
The news of the group falling ill comes amid reports of a number of tourist deaths in the Dominican Republic in the past year.
This story was reported in Los Angeles.