ALL it can take is a backyard tattoo, dodgy body piercing or even a visit to a nail salon to contract hepatitis C.
Experts working in the field say that when you mention the disease, most people first assume drug addicts.
Injection drug use has a high risk of transmission. But it is not the only high risk cause of transmission.
Ballarat Community Health and Hepatitis Victoria are working to break the stigma that has many shying away from seeking help.
Shame is a common theme in patients presenting to BCH and Hepatitis Victoria support groups and programs, inflicted by a widespread lack of community understanding.
Hepatitis C, not to be compared to the jaundice-inducing A strain, is a blood-borne virus. Transmission of hepatitis C may only occur when the blood of an infected person enters the bloodstream of another person.
Before 1990, the virus was associated with blood transfusions because it could not be identified.
Ballarat Community Health nurse Kirsty Simpson said the other major barrier to treating hepatitis C was awareness. In most cases, the person infected with the virus does not immediately feel sick.
Symptoms of the virus can be slow forming and easily confused: tiredness, feeling a little unwell or under-par, night sweats, abdominal bloating, poor concentration, joint and muscle pain or loss of appetite.
Hepatitis C can affect every person differently.
Ms Simpson said of the 250,000 Australians estimated to be living with hepatitis C, only 1-2 per cent are in treatment.
She said in the past treatments were often lengthy, lasting up to two years, with harsh side-effects but, since March 1, new drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme had made treatments far shorter and less taxing on the body. Cure for hepatitis C now had a 90 per cent success rate.
But people needed to first understand the virus better.
About 74,200 Victorians have been infected with the hepatitis C virus with high exposure rates in Indigenous communities and in prison populations.
On average, the virus clear naturally in 25 per cent of cases while the rest often develop chronic hepatitis C and, if left untreated for a long period, can develop liver damage.
Ms Simpson said anyone concerned they may have been exposed or those with high risk factors should consult a general practitioner. It was worth the check.
People can self-refer to BCH, but will need to see a GP first before attending the organisation’s liver clinic.
There is no vaccination for hepatitis C and there is no immunity for those who have previously had the virus. Re-infection can occur.