PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Despite reports of Americans experiencing mysterious illnesses and deaths in the Dominican Republic, one local travel agent said it hasn’t stopped her clients from traveling to the country.
Right now, the United States Department of State ranks the Dominican Republic a “Level 2” out of four under the advisory system. But, that’s because of crime – not illness.
Since the start of the year, at least seven Americans have died in the Dominican Republic. Right now, officials in the Dominican Republic and the United States haven’t said if the recent deaths are connected.
Autopsies performed concluded at least three of the American deaths were from respiratory problems, and at least one tourist died of a heart attack. Officials are still waiting on three FBI toxicology reports for the other three Americans who died.
Video Now: Travel agent not concerned about Dominican Republic
In the meantime, tourist groups are becoming concerned, especially after more than 50 Jimmy Buffet fans became sick on a trip back in April.
Ann Petronio, owner of Annie’s Escapes Custom Travel Planning, said while she’s heard of growing concerns from travelers, she said her clients aren’t letting it ruin their trips.
“They’re asking questions, understandably, because they are hearing all kinds of things or their own family is saying, ‘Should you be going to the Dominican?'” she said.
Petronio said she has approximately a dozen clients traveling to the Dominican Republic this month. She said none of them have canceled their plans, and she says at this point, she wouldn’t tell them they have to do so.
“I haven’t heard any facts that say it’s statistically significant,” she said. “That it’s any more than any other year. I think we just become hyper-aware of it. It’s the uncertainty – not having definitive answers about what has happened.”
Petronio said if a travel ban were to be issued on the Dominican Republic, agents like herself would do everything they could to help those affected.
While she’s waiting for more information on the deaths, Petronio said she urges travelers to be smart and be safe.
“I would say just use normal precautions like you do at home,” she said. “Just be safe about what you see and do any time you’re on vacation. But, I’m not abnormally concerned about the Dominican.”
When traveling to the Dominican Republic, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggests keeping the following in mind:
- Receive vaccinations recommended by your doctor
- Monitor travel warnings and alerts
- Exercise caution when deciding what to eat or drink
- Keep away from animals while traveling
- Avoid sharing bodily fluids
- Take antimalarial medication and protect yourself from bug bites
- Reduce your exposure to germs by washing your hands frequently
- Avoid non-sterile medical or cosmetic equipment
- Avoid dangerous activities to lower risk of injury
- Select safe transportation and be smart while traveling on foot
When considering what to eat or drink while in the Dominican Republic, the CDC said it’s important to know what is 100% safe and what could be contaminated:
What you can eat
- Food that is cooked and served hot
- Hard-cooked eggs
- Fruits and vegetables you have washed in clean water or have peeled yourself
- Pasteurized dairy products
What you shouldn’t eat
- Food served at room temperature
- Food from street vendors
- Raw or soft-cooked (runny) eggs
- Raw or undercooked (rare) meat or fish
- Unwashed or unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables
- Unpasteurized dairy products
- ”Bushmeat” (monkeys, bats, or other wild game)
What you can drink
- Bottled water that is sealed
- Water that has been disinfected
- Ice made with bottled or disinfected water
- Carbonated drinks
- Hot coffee or tea
- Pasteurized milk
What you shouldn’t drink
- Tap or well water
- Ice made with tap or well water
- Drinks made with tap or well water
- Unpasteurized milk