Beware of Pesticide Poisoning When Traveling Abroad

Last year, Kaylynn Knull and Tom Schwander were enjoying a relaxing vacation in the Dominican Republic when the couple started experiencing alarming symptoms. Now the two have filed a $1 million lawsuit against the resort called The Grand Bahia Principe La Romana. 

The couple is seeking restoration for their experiences in the wake of 3 more American deaths that occurred there that same week, reports Fox News (1). 

According to The Sun, Knull and Schwander woke up one morning after several days at the resort, suffering from dizziness, blurred vision, drooling and stomach cramps among other symptoms (2). 

After flying home, US medical doctors suspected pesticide poisoning, specifically from organophosphates. That diagnosis aligned with many of their symptoms. 

Knull now wonders if chemicals sprayed on plants outside the resort’s rooms were to blame, reports The Sun in an interview with the couple. Knull and Schwander wanted the resort to state the name of the chemicals used in its gardening. The two filed a lawsuit after the resort refused.

Unfortunately, last year’s cases aren’t the only episodes of tourist illness in the Dominican Republic. Investigations are ongoing for 11 recent deaths, according to Fox News (3). The FBI and CDC are also investigating. 

The cause of these deaths are still unknown. But media and the tourists involved speculate they could be related to harmful pesticides, spiked alcohol or tainted food.

The Problem of Pesticide Poisoning

In the United States, pesticide poisoning often happens to residents and workers around farming regions. However, the World Health Organization recognizes that poisoning does occur more often in developing countries (4). 

Studies in Central American countries like El Salvador and Nicaragua have shown poisonings to occur twice as much in the general population as in America’s agricultural population. That amounts to 35 cases per 100,000 versus the United States’ 18 cases in the farming community, states WHO.  

However, it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact number because of lack of surveillance, long-term side effects and inconsistent study methods. 

Since millions of US tourists visit areas like the Dominican Republic every year, this situation could truly happen to anyone. According to The Sun, 2.7 million Americans visit the resort where Knull and Schwander stayed last June. 

Signs of Pesticide Poisoning

The big takeaway is that Americans should understand pesticide poisoning and take precautions against it, especially when traveling out of the country.

Pesticides can fall into several different categories. Those include organophosphates, carbamates, and pyrethrins or pryethroids, the last of which are considered natural pesticides. 

Common symptoms you should watch for:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Blurred vision
  • Chest tightness
  • Diarrhea or incontinence
  • Dizziness
  • Drooling
  • Eye irritation or tearing
  • Fluid-filled lungs
  • Headache
  • Muscle weakness or lack of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Sensitivity to light or sound
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slow or irregular heartbeat
  • Slurred speech
  • Sweating
  • Tingling or numbness
  • Vomiting

If you experience any of the above symptoms after traveling to agricultural or international regions, you should seek medical help immediately. 

What to Expect with Pesticide Poisoning Treatment

If you suspect pesticide poisoning, you should get medical help for even mild symptoms like headache or dizziness. Pesticide poisoning can have long-term effects that your doctor might help to improve. 

For more serious cases, your doctor might prescribe medications to help with symptoms and an IV to hydrate and clear your body of toxins. 

Because poisoning symptoms can escalate quickly, you should contact emergency help if you suspect a high level of exposure.

Bottom Line

Pesticide poisoning happens in the US and even more often in developing countries where pesticides are less regulated. In the midst of planning your exciting international vacation, watch for concerning news reports beforehand and stay on guard for poisoning symptoms while you’re abroad.

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  1. Llorente, E. (2019, June 6). Colorado couple files suit alleging chemicals at Dominican Republic resort made them critically ill. Fox News. Retrieved from
  2. Lock, S. (2019, June 11). HOTEL HELL: ‘Terrified’ couple ‘poisoned by pesticide’ at luxury Dominican Republic hotel where three US tourists mysteriously died. The Sun. Retrieved from
  3. Fox News. (2019, June 21). FBI and CDC investigating suspicious deaths, illnesses in Dominican Republic. Retrieved from
  4. Thundiyil, J. G., Stober, J., Besbelli, N., & Pronczuk, J. (2008 March). Acute pesticide poisoning: a proposed classification tool. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 86(3), 161-240.