HPV is an abbreviation for the human papillomavirus. The herpes simplex virus (HSV) causes herpes.
There are also different types of each of these viruses. Each type causes different symptoms, and they can affect different parts of the body. There is no cure for either HPV or herpes.
In this article, we look at the distinctions between HPV and herpes, including their symptoms and methods of treatment and prevention.
The key differences between HPV and herpes
We summarize the most important differences between these two viral infections in the table below:
There are two different strains of the herpes virus:
- HSV-1 typically causes oral herpes, which affects the skin around the mouth. It can occasionally affect the skin around the genitals.
- HSV-2 typically causes genital herpes, which affects the skin around the genitals and anus. It can occasionally affect the skin around the mouth.
In the United States, more than 1 in 6 people aged 14–49 years have genital herpes, while around 50 percent of adults in the country have oral herpes.
A person can transmit either form of herpes during oral sex. Oral herpes can spread through kissing, and many people get it as children.
Both types of herpes cause itchy blisters to form on the skin, and these can break to develop sores. When the blisters appear in or around the mouth, they are known as cold sores.
Cold sores can also appear on the lips, and they may appear in clusters. The surrounding skin may be red, chapped, or irritated. The sores do not usually last longer than a few weeks.
Herpes blisters can come and go. When they appear, this is often called an outbreak. The first time a person has an outbreak, they may also have symptoms of the flu.
Outbreaks usually become less painful over time. As a person ages, the outbreaks tend to occur less frequently and last for shorter periods. Some people stop having them altogether.
Herpes blisters are usually filled with fluid, and they can be painful. They appear grouped together on the skin, and they may appear around the:
- inside of the thighs
Additional symptoms associated with genital herpes include:
- pain around the genitals
- a burning feeling when a person pees
Herpes is usually not a life-threatening condition.
Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of contracting HPV unless they have received a vaccine for the virus.
People are at risk of contracting herpes if they are sexually active or come into contact with the skin or saliva of others with the virus.
Individuals with weakened or suppressed immune systems can have an increased risk of contracting herpes and HPV.
A person is unlikely to contract HPV if their only sexual partner does not have the virus.
It is important to remember that herpes and HPV do not always cause symptoms. Only testing can show whether a person has an infection.
Testing for herpes is not usually part of a routine sexual health scan. If a person has symptoms, they can request a test from their doctor or a sexual health clinic.
It is not possible to test for every type of HPV. Also, the infection is so common that an HPV test is not part of a routine sexual health screening. A cervical screening checks for high-risk forms of HPV that can cause cervical cancer.
Some people with herpes or HPV have no symptoms or symptoms so mild that a person may not be aware of them.
A medical professional will usually only be able to diagnose HPV or herpes if a person has symptoms. After checking the symptoms, they may offer testing if it is available.
A person can greatly reduce the risk of transmitting HPV and herpes by using a condom or dental dam during every sexual encounter, including oral sex.
However, these viruses can live on the skin around the genitals, so it is possible to get HPV or herpes even when using protection.
Oral herpes spreads through contact with saliva or a cold sore. This can result from mouth-to-mouth contact, such as during kissing. The virus cannot live outside of the body, so a person cannot contract it from objects, such as bedding or toilet seats.
A person with genital herpes can take steps to avoid passing it to a partner. These can include:
- taking anti-herpes medication every day
- avoiding sexual contact during outbreaks
Avoid touching sores, as this can spread the virus to other parts of the body.
There is no vaccination for herpes, but there is an HPV vaccination. The CDC recommend that children aged 11 and 12 years are vaccinated for HPV. The vaccine is also available for adults up to the age of 27, if they did not receive the vaccine as children.
HPV and herpes share similar qualities, but it is important to understand their differences. Herpes can cause more irritation and discomfort, but HPV often has a more serious impact on long-term health.
There is no cure for herpes or HPV, but a person can take steps to prevent the symptoms and transmission of both. The HPV vaccination is the most effective method of preventing this virus.
Using condoms and dental dams can reduce the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections. Planned Parenthood have more information about how to practice safer sex.
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