Roddick reveals she has hepatitis C 'and it's a bit of a bummer'

THE Body Shop founder, Dame Anita Roddick, has revealed she is carrying the hepatitis C virus.

Dame Anita, 64, also said she was suffering from cirrhosis of the liver, one of the long-term effects of the virus.

Describing it as "a bit of a bummer", she said she contracted the virus through a blood transfusion while giving birth to her youngest daughter in 1971.

The entrepreneur pledged to campaign to increase people's knowledge of the virus, dubbed "the silent killer" because of the few symptoms it causes.

Dame Anita announced she has become a patron of the Hepatitis C Trust, a UK charity she turned to two years ago when she discovered she had the virus.

She called for the condition to be taken more seriously as a "public health challenge" and questioned the success of a government awareness campaign.

People infected with hepatitis C often show no symptoms initially, but long-term consequences can include liver damage and cancer. Men are more than twice as likely to be infected with the disease as women.

The virus is transmitted by infected body fluids, and drug-users who share needles are particularly at risk.

Dame Anita said: "I have hepatitis C. It's a bit of a bummer, but you groan and move on.

"I had no idea that I had this virus. I was having routine blood tests when it showed up. What I can say is that having 'hep C' means that I live with a sharp sense of my own mortality, which in many ways makes life more vivid and immediate. It makes me even more determined to just get on with things."

Dame Anita called for more public money to be spent on raising awareness of the disease.

She said: "Well, I've always been a bit of a 'whistleblower' and I'm not going to stop now.

"I want to blow the whistle on the fact that hep C must be taken seriously as a public health challenge and must get the attention and resources that it needs."

The Department of Health says it already has an action plan in place, which includes improving prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "We recognise hepatitis C as an important public health issue. That is why we have set a clear national framework for action to tackle the virus.

"A key factor in improving prevention, diagnosis and treatment is raising awareness, and we are funding a number of ongoing campaigns.

"These include a hepatitis C information pack for GPs and practice nurses, a new national freephone information line and advertorials in consumer magazines.

"It is encouraging that these campaigns appear to be leading to increased diagnosis of hepatitis C. The Health Protection Agency in England has recorded a rise of around 5,600 (cases) in 2002 to around 7,600 in 2005.

"By the end of this year, we will have spent 4 million on raising awareness of hepatitis C.

"We are currently exploring the possibility of national advertising to boost the campaign."

However, it is believed that the majority of infected adults - estimated at 231,000 in England four years ago - have not been diagnosed.

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