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More than 50 Buffett fans sickened on Dominican Republic trip

More than 50 Jimmy Buffett fans from Oklahoma were sickened on an annual pilgrimage to celebrate the trop rock troubadour’s music and lifestyle at an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic in April, according to the parrothead club’s travel agent.

News of the mass illness comes as another tourist has died in the Hispaniola island nation, bringing the total number of Americans to die mysteriously there to eight this year.

At least one of the Oklahomans who went on the trip to Punta Cana, from April 13 to 20, is still sick, and doctors at her Veterans Administration hospital diagnosed her with salmonella Wednesday night, said Dana Flowers, an Oklahoma City travel agent and trip organizer for the Central Oklahoma Parrothead Association.

“She’s been sick ever since the trip,” Flowers said.

Flowers, 62, was one of the 114 people to go on the trip to the Hotel Riu Palace Macao and one of those who became ill, he said. His illness lasted for 19 more days after he returned to the United States.

“I lost 19 pounds. It was bad. I had fever, chills, headaches, terrible diarrhea,” he said. “It was just bad news.”

He tested negative for salmonella, but others in the group have tested positive, he said. The one thing all the ill have in common is they hung out at the hotel’s pool bar.

“We all either swam in the pool or drank something from the pool’s swim-up bar,” he said. “I tend to think it was contaminated water or ice or a chemical they were pouring into the pool every night.”

Salmonella causes about 1.2 million illnesses and 450 deaths in the U.S. every year, according to the CDC. The bacteria is typically transmitted through contaminated food, but some simple preventative measures can keep you from getting sick.

The hotel’s representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

When the trip ended, 47 fan club members reported being sickened. Since then, others have come forward saying they also became ill on the vacation, pushing the number over 50, Flowers said.

He said a few people who fell ill went to doctors on staff at the hotel and were immediately given medicine to treat for parasites without testing.

“It makes you wonder, did they know something,” he said. “To me, that was suspicious.”

According to Flowers, hotel staff said the people in the group became sick after going on an off-resort excursion, but he said he began feeling ill before then.

“It had nothing to do with the off-site excursion. We just didn’t believe it,” he said.

The Central Oklahoma Parrothead Association takes several trips a year to places like the Dominican Republic, Honduras, and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to party in honor of Buffett, the one-time Key Wester whose songs about living off the grid in island paradises made him famous decades ago and earned him a huge following of fans, known as parrotheads.

The fan club doesn’t see Buffett concerts on the trips, but musicians who play in the acoustic, country-rooted “trop rock” style music he helped pioneer come along and perform.

The deaths this year in the Dominican Republic sent the nation’s tourism industry reeling, and officials from the Ministry of Tourism issued a June 12 statement saying the whole country is working on getting to the bottom of the problem.

“Our commitment has been, and always will be, to the safety and security of those who choose to visit Dominican Republic to experience their dream vacation. It is our responsibility to ensure that the industry’s highest standards are met to protect those visiting our destinations,” the statement reads.

“Today, our sole focus is providing definitive answers to families that have been affected by recent events. The National Police is working diligently and thoughtfully to complete the investigations and provide answers. As a responsible and law-abiding institution, we are following due process so that the outcomes can be conclusive and so the families can receive the respect they deserve.”

The statement also confirmed that the FBI “is conducting a deeper toxicology analysis” on blood samples taken from the dead American tourists.

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