IT is an illness rarely talked about and generally misunderstood by large sections of society but for sufferers of Hepatitis C the effect it has on their lives can be devastating – and if left untreated can even lead to death.

Hepatitis C is an infection which primarily attacks the liver, which in the short term can mean tiredness and lethargy for sufferers but can ultimately lead to cirrhosis and cancer.

With the lack of understanding in society, it can lead to a difficult life for those who are suffering with the disease.

But help is at hand for those in Swindon in the form of a weekly support group which allows sufferers not only to find out more about their illness but also to get help from those who have gone through what is often a difficult treatment period.

The group was set up by Phil Spalding, 56, who once had Hepatitis C and now wants to help others.

He said: “We are a group which aims to give support and information to those who are affected by Hepatitis C and related issues.

“We help each other to support ourselves. “I think in many ways we are a motivational group. People come along and are encouraged to own their issues and tackle their challenges.”

Phil believes that the lack of understanding with society regarding the disease means there are still many people who are suffering from it and have no idea they have it.

“Because people do not know much about it, it is not something they think about so are suffering in silence,” he said.

“It can leave people feeling tired, lethargic and generally unhappy but can be far more serious in the long term.

“The treatment itself lasts a number of months and is difficult in itself.

“This group has been running for about three years and has got more and more popular as people realise it is here and the help it can provide.”

One member of the group is Paul Exton, 63, of Old Town who was last year given the all clear and comes to the group to help others.

“I caught it through intravenous drug use but that was a lifestyle I gave up more than 40 years ago so I must have had it a long time,” he said.

“At the time I didn’t realise I had Hepatitis C but now I have been given the all-clear I realise the effect it was having on my life.

“I was not physically ill but felt despondent and depressed for much of the time.

"This group is an absolutely fantastic tool for people who need help.

“People can come along to talk about what it is they’re going through or simply to find out information.

“It gives that support network to people who may be a bit lost in the situation they find themselves in.”

The group receives funding from the council, which recently agreed to provide another year’s worth of finance.

They meet every Monday at the Broadgreen Community Centre on Salisbury Street at 6.30pm. For more information call 07580 025116.