Over 1,000 people reported falling ill while staying in the Dominican Republic on a popular food safety site, as reports of mysterious tourist deaths and rampant sickness plague the Caribbean island

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta CanaHard Rock Hotel & Casino Punta Cana/Youtube

  • The Dominican Republic has seen a spate of widely-publicized deaths and illnesses of tourists.
  • The website IWasPoisoned.com has also experienced an unprecedented wave of reports from people who claim to have fallen ill in the Dominican Republic.
  • The website's been flooded with around 1,600 reports concerning the Dominican Republic in 2019 - up from 10 in 2018.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The sickness came at Melissa Goldberg like a tidal wave.

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 her first night back in the United States, 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 to five Americans who say 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's 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 poisoning in the Dominican Republic in 2019. That's up from 10 reports in 2018.

Around 100 of those reports detail tales of illness from 2018 and earlier. 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 traveling 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 describe incidents that occurred in 2019. Over 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 where 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, concurred.

"It's a huge outbreak if you have more than 250 people sick," Jaykus told Business Insider.

Read more: The mysterious deaths in the Dominican Republic reportedly may be linked to illicit alcohol, and it wouldn't be the first time

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 diarrhea for an extended period of time. She said that 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. Business Insider reached out to Centers 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 and the US Embassy in the Dominican Republic did not immediately respond to Business Insider's request for comment. Neither did The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, Bahia Principe, and Secrets Cap Cana, three of the Punta Cana resorts where tourists say they fell ill.

For now, travelers who've dealt with illness in the Dominican Republic are left to mull over the pina 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 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 feature of her stay at the Hard Rock Hotel this past February was the amount of time it took wait staff to supply her with Diet Coke.

"My mom 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 lat 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 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 that 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.
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