Dominican Republic sickness reports scare travelers to other destinations

A Tampa couple is switching up their vacation plans as reports of recent deaths in the Dominican Republic have left them on edge.

John Anderson and Vicki Gilliam had a vacation planned for January. The couple was excited to add the Dominican Republic to their growing list of visited destinations.

"I think it's a beautiful country," said Anderson.

But that excitement has been replaced with fear as reports continue to surface of American tourists dying while on vacation to Dominican Republic. 

"I kept saying 'I don't know about this,'" said Gilliam. "And he said, 'Oh it will be blown over by then, don't worry about it.'" 

Since last summer, at least nine Americans have died and dozens of others have gotten sick while staying in a cluster of resorts on the island.

Most of the deaths have been linked to heart attacks and respiratory issues, but the exact causes are still unknown.

"Every week there's something else, something else, and then I said, 'I really don't want to go there,'" said Gilliam.

With all the uncertainty, John and Vicki are erring on the safe side. 

"We thought, in the circumstances, the risks might be to high to go to the Dominican Republic, in this time frame," said Anderson. "So we said, 'let's go somewhere else.'"​​​​​​​

It's not the first cancelation Prestige Travel Systems has seen over the past few weeks.

"We have had people express concerns. As a travel agency, what we have been doing is, we go over the statistics and try to put their fears to rest," said Richard Petric, a travel agent with Prestige Travel Systems.

The U.S. Department of State has had the country listed as a level two travel advisory since April over concerns about crime, not because of the recent deaths. 

"That's still nothing to be concerned with, because a level two advisory is actually most places in the world," said Petric.

For those deciding to still go forward with their plans, the travel agency is urging travelers to exercise caution.

However, for peace of mind, John and Vicki are changing their destination. They're headed for the Bahamas instead.

"You want to have fun, you don't want to worry!" exclaimed Anderson.

In a statement to Fox 13, the Department of State said:

We are closely monitoring ongoing investigations by Dominican authorities into several recent deaths of U.S. citizens in the Dominican Republic.  We offer our sincerest condolences to the families for their losses, and continue to provide all appropriate consular services.  ​We have no higher priority than the safety and welfare of U.S. citizens abroad.  Millions of Americans travel to the Dominican Republic every year.  While the overwhelming majority travel without incident, we want to assure all Americans that we continue to work actively with the Dominican authorities at the very highest levels to ensure that U.S. citizens are safe and feel safe while in the Dominican Republic.​

The FBI is looking into the deaths and hope to have more answers in the coming month.