Several Canadian families have said their children contracted hand-foot-and-mouth disease while visiting resorts in the Dominican Republic this winter.
These include the Royalton Bavaro hotel and the Barcelo Bavaro Palace, popular resorts near Punta Cana.
Families are demanding more transparency from Sunwing Travel Group and urging the company to tell would-be customers if there are any potential health risks linked to the resorts.
Sunwing said it is “actively monitoring” the situation and its customers’ concerns.
Blue Diamond Resorts, which owns the Royalton Bavaro hotel, told CTVNews.ca that there is “no indication of an outbreak at our resort,” but that it is “concerned to hear about the issues our guests encountered during their stay with us.”
On Thursday, CTVNews.ca reported that an Oakville, Ont. family had their vacation cut short after they said their two-year-old daughter contracted hand-foot-and-mouth disease (HFMD) at the Royalton Bavaro hotel in Punta Cana.
Three days into their stay, Sarah Rundsztuk’s toddler began vomiting and convulsing. After seeking medical attention, she said the family was bounced between the resort’s 24-hour medical station and a local hospital, where Rundsztuk said her daughter was misdiagnosed twice.
The family had booked the trip through Sunwing, which arranges flights to the Royalton Bavaro and other resorts.
At the time, a Sunwing spokesperson told CTVNews.ca that the company had “contacted the resort and requested a full review of what took place, with a focus on ensuring any future incidents are swiftly and responsively addressed.”
After Rundsztuk shared her story, several other families contacted CTVNews.ca, saying they had similar experiences at the same resort or other resorts in the Dominican Republic.
MOST OF THE CASES WERE IN DECEMBER, JANUARY
Anet Ayvazyan said her two-year-old son and her seven-month-old daughter both contracted HFMD while they were at the Royalton Bavaro in early December.
She was sent to the same hospital where she claims they faced “language barriers, misdiagnosis, incorrect and unnecessary medication.”
Now, she wants compensation because it was “so unbearable” to cut her two-week trip in half after spending several days in hospital.
“Almost two months has passed and my son is experiencing the last remaining symptom of this disease,” she said.
Ayvazyan said she’s “quite upset” to hear there were other cases like hers. She feels Sunwing should be letting travellers know about the potential risk.
Anna Hurd says her family’s Christmas was ruined when her 16-month-old daughter came down with HFMD on Dec. 23 while staying at Royalton Bavaro. She says a doctor at the resort said her rash could be a reaction to a bug bite but that it was more likely the HFMD virus.
The Innisfil, Ont. couple was told to keep the child out of the pool.
When the little girl got worse with blisters and a sore throat, Hurd and her husband decided to keep her in their room.
Hurd then posted about the child’s illness on Trip Advisor.
She says Sunwing then demanded that the family go to an off-resort hospital to get a free-to-fly note in order to board their plane the next morning. That note, plus an exam, cost the couple $1,600, which Hurd hopes travel insurance will cover.
Hurd says the pilot and a flight attendant met them at the gate and had to be convinced to let the family fly.
“The flight attendant said they had seen nine cases of it in two weeks,” said Hurd. “It really was a Christmas disaster.”
Hurd says before they left the resort, they were told by staff that they were being offered an upgrade package for a future stay. But when she went to the hotel’s front desk to retrieve that, she found it was accompanied by papers prohibiting her from speaking to anyone about her experience or from holding the resort company liable in any way.
“They just want to sweep it under the rug,” she said. “I think there should be a protocol that when there are more than three active cases, they give an opportunity for families to go to another connected resort. They have to take responsibility for what is happening.”
DAD CALLS FOR BETTER SANITATION
Ryan Foote says his 18-month-old daughter contracted HFMD on a recent trip to the Royalton Bavaro. He says he and his wife were aware through social media posts about other cases of the disease at the resort so loaded up with medicines.
On the fourth day there, the Hamilton, Ont. couple saw a rash all over their child’s face.
“I just don’t want to see any other family go through this,” said Foote, who returned from the Dominican Republic on Jan. 27. His daughter is still recovering.
Foote is urging resort staff to do a better job cleaning and sanitizing the rooms and the pools. He says Sunwing and the resort need to be more proactive and tell customers before booking that the disease could be caught.
Another parent, Melissa Lameiras from Courtice, Ont.., said her 15-month-old child contracted HFMD while at a different resort, Barcelo Bavaro, in the Dominican Republic between Jan. 18 and 23.
She told CTVNews.ca that she wanted to share her story so other families can be aware.
But she said Sunwing doesn’t necessarily have to bear the responsibility since it doesn’t own the resorts. “I think it’s something really hard to control,” Lameiras said. She said she’s concerned she wasn’t told about the potential disease beforehand.
The company that owns Barcelo Bavaro couldn’t be reached for comment by publication time.
SUNWING SAYS INVESTIGATION UNDERWAY
In a statement to CTVNews.ca, Sunwing said that upon learning about those HFMD cases, “we immediately began an investigation with our hotel partners and continue to advocate in the best interest of our customers.
“We hold all our hotel partners to the highest standards and our expectation is that at a minimum they provide clean, sanitary environments with access to trained and qualified medical staff to provide assistance to our customers, as well as robust policies and procedures in place to prevent the spread of disease,” the statement said.
Sunwing said all of its hotel partners are required to adhere to a protocol designed to prevent the spread of infection and the company’s local teams are “highly trained to monitor customer feedback and identify any potential health issues at any hotels we offer.”
“We continue to actively monitor this situation and encourage customers who have health or safety concerns while on vacation to advise the hotel, seek medical assistance and alert their Sunwing Representative,” the statement said, adding that customers who have health concerns after they return home should contact Sunwingcares.ca.
Blue Diamond Resorts said it has a “clear and consistent protocol for the Prevention of the Spread of Infection (POSI) in place, which includes precise sanitization procedures, the use of specialized cleaning equipment and commitment to a clear record-keeping, in addition to reviewing control files to prevent the possibility of an outbreak.”
The company said there’s no HFMD outbreak at its property.
“As a result of the recent cases reported of hand, foot and mouth disease in The Dominican Republic, the Head of General Medicine from Hospiten, an international private medical provider, concluded after thorough review of the resorts in the area… that there is no indication of an outbreak at our resort.”