Hepatitis C has long been one of the least noteworthy strains of the Hep family; but, unfortunately, it's starting to make a huge splash. Hepatitis C is contracted from blood-to-blood contact and can silently destroy the liver while being otherwise virtually symptomless for years or even decades. And, all it takes is a tiny bit of blood exchange and the virus is off and running. Sharing needles, unprotected sex and even using the same cocaine straw as an infected person (the blood vessels in the nose are quite sensitive and squirrely) are all pretty surefire ways to contract the virus. But, even though Hep C is widely acknowledged as the drug user's Hep, you could have shared a toothbrush at a sleepover and been infected.
You have to, specifically, ask for a blood test that checks for levels of Hep C antibodies and most people wouldn't think to do that in a run of the mill annual check up. So, the virus is left undisturbed and undetected while it destroys your liver. Hepatitis C is now the leading grounds for a liver transplant and thousands of people die from it every year. It also leads cirrhosis and liver cancer in a number of cases (i.e. about 20%). And, smoking and drinking only exacerbate the rate at which the Hep works its magic. So, you don't know that you have Hepatitis C and you drink wine with dinner every night; by the time you experience any symptoms, the virus has destroyed 30 percent of your liver. Scary right? It should be.
If you partied a lot in your youth or even if you just became "blood brothers" with half your junior high, it's a good idea to get tested for Hepatitis C. There isn't a cure but there are many new drugs on the horizon that keep the virus at bay and will help you keep your liver if you are, in fact, infected. The standard procedure for treating Hepatitis C is, currently, two forms of chemotherapy drugs (interferon and ribavirin). The side effects are intense and the treatment is quite expensive but enduring this regime can render the virus nearly undetectable. Two new drugs -- both protease inhibitors similar to those used to treat HIV -- are in the final stages of clinical trials and have had enormous success with significantly less side effects than a chemotherapy treatment. This is promising considering that the idea of feeling worse from the treatment than you do from the disease make a lot people hesitant to seek help even if they know they have the virus.The disease is largely asymptomatic until much of the liver is destroyed. And, this can take as many as 20 or 30 years. But, there are many cases that do involve symptoms so here are things to look out for:Dark UrineFatigueLoss of appetitePale or clay - colored stoolsVomitingAbdominal PainJaundiceThe symptoms of Hepatitis C, granted, are pretty vague and encompassing of a litany of maladies (who doesn't describe himself as having fatigue nowadays). So, just get the antibodies test: it costs about 12 dollars. And, that's considerably less than a new liver to say the least.