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Bugs on the march at holiday hotel, says new TV show

As thousands of Britons think about booking foreign hotels for their annual hit of summer sun, a new BBC1 television series is providing a timely reminder of the perils that can befall the unwary holidaymaker.

Called 'Holiday Hit Squad', the first programme, shown on Wednesday evening, discussed a variety of cases in which holiday brochures and websites have made less-than-truthful claims for the excellence of certain foreign hotels.

A serious potential problem highlighted by the show is the threat posed to overnighters of illness and disease. It's a situation encountered by many British tourists, who can be struck down during their stay or on returning home, some succumbing to virulent illness days or even weeks after their vacation.

That sickness afflicts so many holidaymakers is, however, unsurprising, given the risks that sometimes lie in wait for unsuspecting guests once they've checked in. What is unacceptable is the fact that so many are caused by shoddy standards of hygiene and are, as such, entirely preventable.

For example, confronted with a frankly disgusting mattress which appeared never to have been acquainted with a simple protector sheet, Holiday Hit Squad's co-presenter, Joe Crowley, noted: "In a busy hotel your mattress could contain the dead skin cells, bacteria, viruses and any other bodily fluids of more than 2 thousand people."

Joe was in deep cover at the Hotel Aldeia, at the resort of Albufeira on Portugal's Algarve, to where some 2 million holidaymakers are drawn every year. We knew immediately that we were somewhere south of holiday hell by the use of the 'Faulty Towers' theme music in the soundtrack. But the offending mattress was only part of a catalogue of horrors discovered by Joe and an independent health and safety expert, Lisa Attley.

The Aldeia's huge swimming pool may have looked impressive. But appearances can be deceptive, said Joe, as Lisa scraped from her hands a nasty-looking goo she'd found clinging to the pool's wall just below the water's surface.

"Parasites from unclean pools can cause stomach pain, vomiting, nausea and fever," Joe noted, as Lisa took a water sample to check on chlorine levels. Chlorine is an important additive to pool water for the disinfectant properties which kill bacteria. Too much can cause bathers to suffer from skin rashes – in its undiluted, gaseous form, chlorine is highly toxic – while too little will do nothing to combat the bugs it's aimed at.

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In the Aldeia's case the readings were "way too low", meaning the pool was potentially a breeding ground for the massed ranks of bacteria and viral infections which can wreck a holiday.

Nick Harris, an expert in international holiday law with Simpson Millar LLP, said the possibility of contracting something unpleasant while abroad is always present.

"Diseases such as salmonella, campylobacter, shigella, cryptosporidium, Legionnaire's Disease or e-coli can ruin what ought to be an enjoyable and richly-deserved break," Nick said. "These are often highly contagious and can spread rapidly, especially in all-inclusive resorts."

Pointing out that awareness in itself cannot predict an unexpected illness caused by a hotelier's negligence, Nick added: "The Package Travel Regulations 1992 provides an avenue whereby you might be able to claim against sickness that wasn't your fault. If the worst has happened, it's worth contacting a solicitor who's well-versed in this area of the law."

Dated: 08/02/2013