A HUDDERSFIELD woman has spoken of the misery of an illness which has left her wanting to take her own life.
Netherton woman Maureen Ross, 55, has suffered from the hepatitis C virus for 13 years, leaving her so lethargic that she feels suicidal. "I feel like a 90-year-old," she said.
The former office worker has been unable to work since she contracted the liver disease, which has reduced her weight to just four stones.
She thinks hepatitis C could become as serious an epidemic as Aids unless awareness of the disease is raised.
She said: "This country needs to be scared into seeing that this virus is one nasty piece of work."
But the illness is still a mystery to many. When Mrs Ross contracted the virus it did not even have a name.
It is mostly spread by heroin users sharing needles. But Mrs Ross has never used the drug.
Her boyfriend of 20 years ago was a heroin addict and Mrs Ross believes she contracted the disease by using his toothbrush and razor.
She said: "This isn't just a disease for addicts or idiots. Even if you've been with someone 50 years don't use their razor or toothbrush."
The mother-of-one takes ripavirin pills twice a day and interferon injections every Wednesday.
She has an 80% chance of beating the virus, but the treatment's side- effects make her feel suicidal.
"It's like having full-blown flu all the time. You feel absolutely shattered and pick up every infection going."
Anger is another side-effect. Mrs Ross said: "I used to be happy-go- lucky, but now I'm bad-tempered."
When she is well enough she goes to a hepatitis C support group at the Brunswick Centre in Halifax.
About 15 people from the Huddersfield area go to the centre for support. They eat together, have massages and discuss their problems.
Mrs Ross said: "Many people with hepatitis C feel very dirty. There's an awful lot of stigma about it. People have told me the group saved their lives because they can talk about their disease and make it normal."
For more details about the support group phone 01422 341764 or visit www.peacockproject.hepc.co.uk
HEPATITIS C is a virus that can cause fatal liver problems.
It is passed on when a carrier's blood gets under the skin or into the bloodstream of another person.
The disease can be spread by tattooing, piercing, blood transfusion or sharing needles.
About one in five victims get rid of hepatitis C within six months without suffering any symptoms.
These include jaundice, weight loss, alcohol intolerance, vomiting and flu-like symptoms.
HEPATITIS C is treated with a combination of interferon and ribavirin.
About four in 10 patients respond to this therapy.
If liver damage is severe a transplant may be the only option.
Even a liver transplant does not cure the virus. It infects the new liver and will damage it in the same way.