Hepatitis C virus (HCV) currently infects an estimated 2-3 million people in the United States and 175 million people globally. Over 80% of infected patients go on to develop chronic disease. Most patients remain asymptomatic despite silent, insidious progression of the disease. The sequelae of HCV-induced chronic liver disease accounts for 8,000-10,000 deaths annually in the United States and is currently the leading indication for liver transplantation. The cost of this epidemic to the United States was estimated in 1991 at $600 million in terms of medical expenses (excluding costs related to liver transplantation) and work lost. Over the last decade, since the viral genome of HCV was first sequenced in 1989, there has been a great increase in understanding of this infection. This review summarizes current knowledge about the hepatitis C epidemic with particular reference to epidemiology of infection, viral characteristics, risk factors for disease, diagnostic testing, clinical manifestations, and current, as well as potential, therapeutic options.