For 20 years Chrissie Semple carried the hepatitis C virus without knowing it.
She had become infected after a blood transfusion in Germany following a Caesarean section for her youngest daughter.
Recent statistics show there are about 100,000 people like Chrissie who are unsuspecting carriers of hep C.
Doctors only discovered she had the disease in 2000 when she had what felt like "a four-day hangover" - but without the alcohol.
"I woke up feeling nauseous and felt my body was sore," she said.
"I went to the doctors because it got to the point where I could not really get out of bed and he thought that perhaps I had ME.
"It went on for a whole week with me feeling really bad."
When Chrissie, aged 51, from Cornwall, mentioned that she had been in Cyprus on holiday recently, doctors decided to run the hepatitis test, to see if she had picked up hepatitis A.
"A couple of weeks later I got the call at home and they said I had hep C," she said.
"I asked them what it was and how I could have got it and they said 'drugs'.
"I said I hadn't used drugs and they just said 'I don't know how you got it then'.
As Chrissie had no piercing or tattoos she eventually concluded that the only possible time she could have contacted the disease was at the birth of her daughter - and that it had lain dormant in her system for over 20 years.
'It was a complete shock," she said.
Today Chrissie is clear of hep C after successfully undergoing Pegasys, or pegylated interferon, treatment.
Interferons are a group of naturally occurring proteins that form an essential part of the immune system.
Interferons operate in two ways, firstly they directly hinder the replication process of the virus and secondly they enhance the immune response.
Her husband John, who she met on a hep C website, is currently having his second dose of Pegasys.
He had the virus for 30 years before it was discovered after he presented at his GP's with a rash.
Hep C was diagnosed, and he traced it back to his taking drugs in the 1970s.
Years to appear
Sir Liam Donaldson, the Chief Medical Officer for England, said: "Around 100,000 people in England are estimated to be unaware that they have hepatitis C.
"It can take years or even decades for symptoms to appear, if at all, and if left untreated can lead to liver damage and premature death."
But he said there was help available and urged those who suspected they were at risk to come forward.
But an ICM poll show that a third of people still do not know the risks of injecting drugs, or getting tattoos and piercings where equipment may not have been sterile.
Charles Gore, chief executive of the Hepatitis C Trust and President of the World Hepatitis Alliance, said: "Twenty years down the line, it's worrying to see the public still believe so many myths around hepatitis C.
"Education is absolutely essential to eradicating this problem."
GP Dr Rosemary Leonard agreed: "There is general ignorance about hep C, people are not aware of it they have heard about HIV and not hep C.
"Don't use drugs and if you do don't share needles and do practise safe sex and don't go abroad for piercings or tattoos."
Many people believe there the social stigma attached to the disease is holding back progress, and needs to be addressed urgently.
Simon Woods, 36, of London, is living proof of just how difficult it can be to come clean.
He got hep C from taking drugs and is now clear, but says he was so embarrassed about what he called the "junkie's curse" that he lied to family about why he was ill.
"There is a big stigma attached to it. When I started the treatment I told my family I was having chemo as I felt cancer was more socially acceptable than hep C," he said.
Chrissie and John have now set up their own online support forum for those affected with Hepatitis C - The Nomads.
By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter
Source - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7856026.stm
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