A pandemonium of Parrotheads became violently ill during an April visit to the Dominican Republic, suffering symptoms that sound eerily similar to those associated with the mystery disease that's killed at least nine U.S. tourists in the Caribbean country since 2018. According to People, 47 of the 114 assembled Jimmy Buffett fans came down with acute nausea, relentless barfing, fevers, and a variety of gastrointestinal issues that left some debilitated for weeks.
"Most people initially thought that it was food poisoning," Dana Flowers, a member of the Central Oklahoma Parrothead Association and also its travel agent, explained to NBC. "It was basically—it was crippling diarrhea."
According to Flowers, the afflicted fans were enjoying a week-long stay at the Hotel Riu Palace Macao in Punta Cana, when suddenly Parrotheads began dropping like flies. "We were enjoying the beach and the pool, and about 3 or 4 days into the trip we started hearing about people getting sick. They were getting diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness, headaches," he told People. "It was some of the worst sick I've ever been, and I don't normally ever get sick."
Flowers said he lost 14 pounds over 19 days, and that some of the ailing Buffett-lovers still don't feel fully recovered. He added that the hotel doctor "just automatically" prescribed everyone medicine for parasites, without running tests to determine the source of their illness. The group, meanwhile, pinpointed a unifying theme amongst the diseased: Everyone who got sick had either swum in a particular pool, or drank at a particular swim-up bar.
Pat Fawcett, one of the sickened Parrotheads, told NBC she tested positive for salmonella after the trip. "I came home and I felt like I was in a fever coma for days,'' she said. "I'm just grateful to be alive at this point."
Since June 2018, at least nine people have died after suddenly developing an unknown illness in the Dominican Republic, their loved ones often reporting that the deceased developed precisely the same symptoms as the Parrotheads described. The FBI is reportedly probing bootleg liquor as one possible cause of the ailments, which resemble methanol poisoning in their tendency to leave sufferers sweaty, nauseated, feverish, and completely obliterated by abrupt stomach cramps. Many of the fatalities have been associated with cardiac arrest and pulmonary edema, which also tracks with methanol poisoning, but any toxicology screening results would not be available for some weeks yet.
The resorts that have seen multiple deaths—various Grand Bahia Principe properties, and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana—have denied the suggestion that they've mixed methanol into liquor bottles, insisted on their cooperation with investigators, and framed the fatalities as unrelated incidents.
Still, a number of tourists have recently come out of the woodwork, reporting experiences that mirror the Parrothead Association's in April, but according to NBC, travel to the Dominican Republic is no more deadly or dangerous now than it has been in years past. The State Department told NBC that, on average, 2.7 million Americans visit the Dominican Republic every year, and between 2008 and 2018, 194 U.S. tourist deaths were reported in the nation. That works out to just over 19 annually on average; as such, Dominican Tourism Minister Francisco Javier García has urged potential visitors not to panic.
"We are confident that we can provide a definitive answer as soon as possible," García said last week, addressing the spate of deaths and illness. "You can also be sure that the necessary measures will be taken to make the country even safer for all visitors."