Hepatitis C is a contagious, viral disease that leads to swelling (inflammation) of the liver. According to the Caring Ambassadors Hepatitis C Program, approximately five million Americans have been infected with the virus and two out of three are unaware that they have it.

Lucinda K. Porter, registered nurse and author of "Free from Hepatitis C," said, "Although more Americans die from hepatitis C than from HIV, hepatitis C is not a death sentence. Hepatitis C is preventable, manageable and curable."

It is spread through blood to blood contact, such as infected blood transfusions, sharing illegal drug paraphernalia, unprotected sex with someone who has the disease or being born to a mother with the disease.

Risk Factors
As the Mayo Clinic highlights, various other factors put you at a greater risk of contracting the disease: exposure to blood as an emergency or health worker, treatment for clotting from hemophilia prior to 1987, extensive treatment for hemodialysis and organ transplants prior to 1992.

Anjana Pillai, gastroenterologist for the Loyola University Health System, said that whose born between 1945 - 1964 are in a high risk category and should be tested. "This period," she explained, "saw a high incidence of IV drug abuse and other illicit behavior that can lead to getting Hepatitis C."

Acute and chronic
Hepatitis C is separated into two types: acute and chronic. The former is a short-term illness that occurs within six months of exposure to the virus. In many cases it develops into the latter, which is a long-term illness that potentially lasts for one's entire life.

The majority of people with hepatitis C (between 70 and 80 percent) are asymptomatic. Therefore many people don't even know they have the disease. However, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that some people exhibit the following warning signs: nausea, dark urine, jaundice, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, fatigue, clay-colored bowel movements, joint paint and appetite loss.

A simply blood test can conclude whether someone has hepatitis C, measure how far the virus has spread and establish the virus' genetic makeup.

The most effective treatments for the disease depend upon the patient's genotype, reported Pillai. There are six different types and 70 percent of patients have genotype one, which is the most difficult to treat.

Porter said, "Most people will need 3 drugs - peginterferon (once a week injection), ribavirin (twice daily pills), and one of the new HCV protease inhibitors, either telaprevir (Incivek) or boceprevir (Victrelis) pills taken every 8 hours."

Peginterferon and ribavirin are antiviral medications. These medications can cause serious side effects, such as depression and flu-like symptoms.

Telaprevir and boceprevir, two recently-approved FDA drugs, reportedly increase response rate by 80 percent.

Up until a year ago, people has less than a 40 percent chance for a cure with 48 weeks of treatment. With the availability of telaprevir, that chance has doubled to 80 percent.

If the disease has ravaged the liver, a surgeon may perform a liver transplant to provide the patient with a healthy one. Porter said that hepatitis C will cause one million cases of cirrhosis (chronic liver disease) by 2020.