New data released by The Hepatitis C Trust shows a widespread lack of awareness of the transmission risks and symptoms of the potentially deadly virus Hepatitis C.

Symptom awareness is low, with only a third of respondents accurately identifying tiredness, loss of appetite, vomiting and abdominal pains as signs of infection. When asked how hepatitis C is transmitted, 30 per cent incorrectly said it was through exchanging saliva. Less than half knew that symptoms are not always obvious and can go unnoticed, leading to people living for years without knowing they are infected.

In Dorset, Hepatitis C detection rate per 100,000 population is 28.

If left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to liver cancer, liver failure and death. Between 2005 and 2014, deaths from hepatitis-C related end-stage liver disease in England more than doubled, though are now beginning to fall due to new treatments.

The Hepatitis C Trust is calling for increased community outreach efforts to ensure all those living with hepatitis C who are undiagnosed or out of touch with services are tested, treated and cured. Bold ambition is necessary to increase the numbers of people tested and diagnosed for hepatitis C and achieve the NHS England ambition of eliminating hepatitis C by 2025.

Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact and, contrary to popular myth, cannot be spread via spitting, coughing, sneezing or other physical contact. It is preventable, treatable and curable for the vast majority of people. Since 2015, treatments with short durations, limited side-effects and cure rates upwards of 95 per cent have been widely available.

Rachel Halford, chief executive of The Hepatitis C Trust said: “With revolutionary new treatments available to all through the NHS, this new data shows clearly that the greatest challenges to tackling hepatitis C are dispelling misconceptions, raising awareness and minimising barriers to testing and treatment.

“We want to see treatment available in all community settings, including pharmacies, drug and alcohol services, sexual health services and primary care. There’s no reason that testing cannot be conducted by any trained service worker, and community outreach will be essential to ensuring all those currently undiagnosed are tested, treated and cured."

Dr Helen Harris, clinical scientist at Public Health England added: "The results of this survey highlight the very low levels of awareness of hepatitis C and the factors that put people at risk of infection. We strongly encourage anyone who may have been at risk of hepatitis C infection to get tested, whether or not they have any symptoms.

“It is crucial that people are tested and diagnosed in order that they can access treatment early to clear the virus. Increased levels of testing and diagnosis are essential if we are to reach our goal of eliminating hepatitis C as a major public health threat in the UK by 2030, at the latest.”