Hepatitis C virus, though causing identical symptoms to the Hepatitis A and B viruses, causes a much higher rate of asymptomatic infections- 80%. Persons infected with Hepatitis C are also much more likely to develop chronic Hepatitis C (50-85% of all infected), and 70% of those who are chronically infected go on to develop liver disease. This makes infection with Hepatitis C virus the number one reason for liver transplantations.
Transmission of Hepatitis C
The Hepatitis C virus is found in the largest amounts in the blood of infected persons, and, to a lesser extent, other bodily fluids. Persons can become infected when blood and/or body fluid containing the Hepatitis C virus enters their body. The leading cause of infection with Hepatitis C is through injection drug use.
Who is at risk for Hepatitis C?
The group of people with the highest rate of Hepatitis C infection is injecting drug users. Those who received clotting factors, transfusions, and other blood-derived products before they were routinely screened for Hepatitis C are also at high risk. Persons on hemodialysis, with undiagnosed liver abnormalities, and infants born to infected mothers should also be tested for Hepatitis C.
Protecting Yourself from Hepatitis C
Currently, no vaccine exists against Hepatitis C. The best protection is not to inject drugs, or to stop if you do. If you are unwilling to stop, be sure you use sterile syringes and clean water and "works" each time you inject. If you share a household with a person infected with Hepatitis C, do not share items like toothbrushes and razors that may contain blood on them.
Treatment of Hepatitis C disease
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved two antiviral drugs for the treatment of chronic Hepatitis C disease: interferon (and a derivative, pegylated interferon) and ribavirin. A combination therapy of interferon and ribavirin has been shown to work better than interferon alone. These drugs work best in persons at a certain stage of Hepatitis C disease.
If you have been diagnosed with Hepatitis C, it is best if you totally abstain from alcohol, and are evaluated by your doctor for signs of liver disease. In order to protect yourself from fulminant Hepatitis A, most often found in persons with liver disease, vaccination against Hepatitis A may be advised, as well as Hepatitis B, depending on your lifestyle.
CDC Info on Hepatitis C: