MORE than 1,000 people could be living with a killer disease in Bolton but have no idea they are ill, according to experts.

Leading gastroenterologist at the Royal Bolton Hospital, Dr George Lipscombe, spoke out during an exhibition being held at Victoria Square in Bolton town centre today to raise awareness of hepatitis C.

It is estimated that between 1,200 and 1,500 people in the borough could have contracted the disease, which can cause serious liver damage, but as many as 80 per cent of those will be unaware they have it.

Dr Lipscombe said: "There could be 1,000 people in Bolton who don't know they are seriously ill. People often experience very few symptoms until they become seriously ill. The message we want to get across is if people think they could be at any kind of risk they should get tested because there is a cure and they can be treated.

"This disease could affect anyone. Those featured in the campaign are all normal' people."

The exhibition featured huge photographs of people who have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, including an image of Susan Wright, a former teacher from Deane, who found out she had the disease following a routine blood test for health insurance in 2003.

The 50-year-old, who admits using intravenous drugs while at university in the 1970s, underwent almost a year's gruelling treatment but was declared free of hepatitis C last week.

The mum-of-four said: "I wanted to take part in this because I wanted to tell people if they think there is any chance they could be affected to get tested as soon as possible, and if they are offered treatment, to take it, because it changed my life."

The Face It campaign has been launched by the Department of Health and is touring the country.

It aims to improve people's awareness of the disease and encourage anyone who thinks they could be at risk of developing it to be tested.

Photographer Michele Martinoli, who works for Hello magazine and herself had hepatitis C, captured the images.

She came up with the idea when she was studying for a degree in photography in 2004.