Human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes are both common sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If you’re sexually active, it’s possible that you’ll have one or both of these viruses at some point in your life.

HPV is more common than herpes, and HPV can cause other health concerns such as cancers or the onset of genital warts. Keep reading to learn more about how these two conditions are similar and how they’re different.

Symptoms of HPV

Most people with HPV don’t have symptoms. Some people will develop genital warts. These can occur as a single growth, a cluster of growths, or a growth that has a texture like cauliflower.

Women may learn they have HPV after getting an abnormal Pap test result.

Symptoms of genital herpes

If you have genital herpes, you may initially have pain or itching in your genital area. Eventually, the virus will cause you to develop a sore or blister in the genital area.

If you have herpes, you may have these symptoms:

  • blisters that may ooze
  • itching or pain in the genital area a few days to 10 days after sex with an infected partner
  • red bumps or other blisters in the genital area
  • a burning or tingling sensation where the infection entered your body
  • pain in your legs or your lower back

Herpes and HPV can lie dormant, meaning you can have the infection without having any symptoms.

Symptoms• It often has no symptoms.
• Genital warts may be present.
• Sores or blisters that can ooze may be present around the genitals.
• Itching or pain in the genital area can occur shortly after infection.
Diagnosis• A visual exam can help with diagnosis if there are symptoms.
• A Pap test can help with the diagnosis in women.
• No test is available for men.
• A physical exam can help with diagnosis.
• A blood test can help with diagnosis.
• A tissue sample test can help with diagnosis.
Treatment• No cure exists.
• Prescription drugs can treat genital warts.
• No cure exists.
• Antiviral drugs can treat symptoms or reduce outbreaks.
Prevention• Use latex condoms during sexual intercourse.
• Use a dental dam or condom during oral sex.
• Limit your number of sexual partners.
• Discuss your partner’s sexual history.
• Get a regular Pap test if you’re a woman between the ages of 21 and 65.
• Use latex condoms during sexual intercourse.
• Use a dental dam or condom during oral sex.
• Limit your number of sexual partners.
• Discuss your partner’s sexual history.

HPV and herpes can both spread through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

You can also spread the herpes simplex virus-1 (HSV-1) form of herpes, which is responsible for cold sores, through the sharing of utensils, drinking glasses, or lip balm, or through kissing. If you have HSV-1 and engage in oral sex, you can spread the virus to your partner.

The other type of herpes is herpes simplex virus-2. This is the type that usually causes genital herpes. It’s highly contagious even if you don’t have any noticeable symptoms.

You can get HPV and herpes if you have sexual intercourse with someone who has either of the viruses.

You can get either virus even if your partner has no symptoms. You can transmit either virus even if you have no symptoms.

Your risk for either virus increases if you have more sexual partners. Men are more likely to spread herpes than women.

HPV risk factors by race

See your doctor if you think you may have HPV or herpes. If you’re a woman, your doctor can do a Pap test. An abnormal test result could lead to an HPV diagnosis. Often, particularly if you are male, your doctor will not be able to diagnose you with HPV unless you develop genital warts.

If you suspect you have herpes, your doctor can do a physical exam, a blood test, or a test with a tissue sample to diagnose this virus. Your doctor can prescribe medication or recommend other treatment if necessary.

Treating the symptoms of HPV

Genital warts from HPV occasionally go away without medication. While no cure exists for HPV, your doctor can prescribe medication to help lessen the effects of warts that occur from HPV. Medications that may help include:

  • imiquimod (Aldara, Zyclara)
  • podofilox (Condylox)
  • sinecatechins (Veregen)

Your doctor may also apply trichloroacetic acid or bicloroacetic acid to help treat genital warts.

Treating the symptoms of herpes

No cure is available for herpes. If you have herpes, your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs. These can help clear up your symptoms or reduce the frequency of your outbreaks. Antivirals your doctor may prescribe include:

Complications of HPV

HPV can cause cervical cancer and other cancers around the genitals, including the anus, vulva, and penis. It can also lead to oral cancer if it spreads to the mouth through oral sex. It may take several years to develop cancer. Some people first learn that they have HPV after receiving a cancer diagnosis.

Many people can fight off the virus without problems. Those with compromised immune systems are more likely to have health problems if they have the virus.

Complications of herpes

Complications from herpes can include:

  • urinary tract infections
  • other STIs that you can get through contact with herpes sores
  • meningitis, which is rare and occurs when the infection branches out to your brain or spinal fluid

Many people live comfortably with both HPV and herpes because the viruses often lie dormant, meaning they have no signs or symptoms.

Anyone with the HPV virus should be aware of the risks of it developing into certain kinds of cancers.

Tell your sexual partner if you find out you have HPV or herpes, and make sure they’re aware of the risks.

An HPV vaccine is available. The vaccine reduces your risk of getting HPV. If you get the vaccine, you’ll need three doses over the course of six weeks. The vaccine is only effective if you get all three doses.

The recommends that girls and boys around ages 11 to 12 get the vaccine. Young adults who missed the recommended age for vaccination can do a catch-up vaccination up to age 21 for males and age 26 for females. The CDC also recommends vaccinations if you have a compromised immune system, or if you’re a man who has sex with other men and you’re under the age of 26.

You should have regular cervical cancer screenings if you’re a woman between the ages of 21 to 65 to avoid health problems associated with HPV.

You can do the following to reduce your risk of getting HPV or herpes:

  • Use latex condoms during sexual intercourse.
  • Limit your sexual partners.
  • Use a dental dam or condom when engaging in oral sex.
  • Ask your sexual partners if they’ve been tested for STIs, and notify your partners of any diseases you may have.

Condoms can’t fully protect you from contracting herpes, so it’s important to have open discussions with your sexual partners about their sexual history. If you’re sexually active, speak with your doctor about practicing safe sex. If you’ve never had an STI screening, ask your doctor about getting tested.