A woman from Cornwall has described finding out she had hepatitis C 40 years after she was first infected.

Patricia Hopton, from Falmouth, is one a number of women infected with hepatitis C after being given infected blood during childbirth.

They have described being “fobbed off” and “gaslit” by medics as they fought to seek help for symptoms linked to the virus.

Many were told they were suffering from conditions including depression, allergies or irritable bowel syndrome as doctors failed to spot that they were trying to fight off the infection.

Doctors thought many women were alcoholics and refused to believe them when they said they had stopped drinking as their liver problems persisted.

Many women waited decades before they were finally diagnosed with hepatitis C and the delay means many have serious and ongoing health issues.

A charity said these women were “let down twice”- first when they were given contaminated blood transfusions and again when they tried to seek help for symptoms.

The Hepatitis C Trust said around 64% of people who received an infected blood transfusion were women.

Among them was Patricia Hopton, from Falmouth, who received a blood transfusion in 1978 when she gave birth to the younger of her two daughters.

Doctors told her that she nearly died during a particularly difficult labour, which led to her needing a full hysterectomy.

“I ended up having to have 11 litres of blood transfused,” she said. “I was put in intensive care on a life support system.”

Thankful that her life had been saved by a blood transfusion, Ms Hopton decided to go on to donate blood – not knowing she had been infected with hepatitis C during her own blood transfusion.

The 74-year-old told the PA news agency that she thinks about people who may have received her blood donations “all the time”, adding: “When I recovered after the birth of my daughter, I was so grateful that somebody had given me blood that I went and donated blood twice.

“Of course it wasn’t checked back then so I have unwittingly infected other people.”

Falmouth Packet: Patricia says she unwittingly went on to infect others after donating blood that wasn't checkedPatricia says she unwittingly went on to infect others after donating blood that wasn't checked (Image: Handout/PA)

She suffered symptoms of fatigue and brain fog after becoming infected, but it was initially dismissed by doctors as low iron.

“Straightaway I felt very, very tired, I went my own GP and he said: ‘You need iron, that’s all you need, you lost a lot of blood,’” she said.

Ms Hopton described how she “pushed through” but when symptoms became too much in 2016 she pressed medical professionals for answers.

Doctors initially diagnosed her with a fatty liver so she cut alcohol from her diet.

Follow up scans showed no difference and she was “passed around doctors”.

Only after a referral to dermatology for large blisters on her hands did someone suggest checking her for the virus.

Ms Hopton, who owned a marine business before she retired, added: “It took years to find out what was wrong.

“When it was discovered that I had hep C it explained a lot – the tiredness, the brain fog.

“But it also makes you wonder if you could have gone further in your life and done more things if you hadn’t had that holding you back.

“It really screwed up my retirement, I can’t go sailing, I can’t go do these things that I used to do.”

Statisticians have estimated that around 27,000 people were infected with contaminated blood as a result of blood transfusions.

Rachel Halford, chief executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “Around 64% of people who received an infected blood transfusion were women; many of whom were let down twice by the healthcare system.

“Firstly, when they were given infected blood and again when their symptoms were not properly investigated.

“Over the years, we’ve heard from hundreds of women who felt let down, and on occasion gaslit, by their GP in the search for answers about their health.”

Hepatitis C is often referred to as a “silent killer” due to vague symptoms.

The charity has encouraged anyone who had a blood transfusion before the mid 1990s to get checked for hepatitis C.

At-home hepatitis C tests can be ordered via hepctest.nhs.uk.

People are given a kit which includes a finger prick test which draws a small amount of blood which is sent off for testing.

GPs can also help patients order tests if they cannot do them at home.