HPV and herpes are often confused with one another, and to be fair, they do share a lot of similarities.
Both are viruses that cause common sexually transmitted infections, yet they can also be passed on without being sexually active. Both can cause genital lesions, although many people with either virus may never experience symptoms at all.
And, even though you might not hear many people you know talk about it, both HPV and herpes are extremely common.
To bring you up to speed on the differences between these 2 viruses, we've created this handy guide on what to look out for and how to treat HPV and herpes.
What's the difference between HPV and herpes?
There are 2 types of the herpes virus. Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is most commonly associated with cold sores around the mouth, while herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) is typically associated with genital herpes .
But, in reality, both strains of herpes can cause infections in either body part. And, while you might not like talking about it, it's important to know that herpes is incredibly common with up to 80% of Australian adults carrying HSV-1 .
Human papillomavirus (HPV), on the other hand, has over 200 types. HPV is the most commonly sexually transmitted infection, with a huge chunk of sexually active people becoming infected with at least 1 type of HPV in their lifetime.
Similar to herpes, many people may not realise they are infected with HPV because they never experience any symptoms .
Does herpes turn into HPV?
Although they have several similarities, herpes and HPV are 2 completely different types of viruses. This means that herpes doesn't turn into HPV or vice versa.
You can become infected with 1 type of virus and not the other, or be infected with both viruses at the same time but they are separate viruses. Although, in saying that, there is some evidence that suggests that herpes infection can you put at a higher risk of an HPV infection .
What are the symptoms of HPV and herpes?
HPV tends to have fewer symptoms than herpes, although some types of HPV can have higher risk outcomes.
The most common symptom of HPV is warts, which can affect the genitals or other body parts such as the face, hands, knees or feet . Warts can appear anytime within several weeks or several years after coming into contact with a person infected with HPV .
Warts associated with HPV generally look like small, raised bumps that may be rough or smooth and up to 10 millimetres wide. Genital warts can appear as flat bumps or may have a more distinct appearance with small lumpy growths that look like cauliflower.
In men, these usually appear on the penis, scrotum and around the anus, although they can also appear in your mouth as a result of oral sex . Around 90% of genital warts are caused by HPV types 6 and 11 .
Although genital warts may be uncomfortable, they are considered to be associated with low-risk cases of HPV. A far more serious outcome of HPV is that some strains of the virus are linked to a number of cancers.
For men, this could develop into cancer of the anus, scrotum, penis, mouth or pharynx cancer, while women may experience vaginal or cervical cancer.
These types of HPV don’t usually cause any symptoms, so people with the infection may be unaware that they are at risk of cancer .
Herpes can also cause bumps on the mouth or genitals, but these appear in the form of blisters or sores, rather than warts and these blisters can be painful and itchy.
On the lower part of the body, the blisters tend to appear around the penis, scrotum, anus, upper thighs, groin or buttocks. When they occur around the mouth, they are known as cold sores .
Most people experience a burning, itchy or tingly sensation in anticipation of a breakout. The sensation occurs in the spot where the blisters will form and is experienced anywhere from 2 hours to 2 days before the breakout .
In general, when you experience your first herpes outbreak, the initial symptoms are more severe than recurring breakouts. Aside from the blisters, you may also experience fever-like symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, chills, muscle soreness, loss of appetite and swollen lymph nodes .
Each recurrent time you experience a herpes breakout, there are usually fewer blisters and they don't last as long.
How are HPV and herpes transmitted?
Genital HPV and herpes infections can be transmitted through oral, vaginal or anal sex with another person with the virus . This happens through contact with sexual fluids and the skin in the genital area.
In saying that, both viruses can also be spread through non-sexual bodily fluids or skin-to-skin contact.
Non-genital HPV, for example, where you may have warts on your hands or knees, can be transmitted by coming into direct contact with someone else's warts. This is made more likely if you have any cuts or injuries that make your skin more vulnerable .
When it comes to herpes, the virus is most contagious from the fluid shed by blisters. Cold sores may transmit herpes through kissing, or by simply sharing water bottles, cutlery, lip balms or anything else that you touch with the mouth .
And lastly, both HPV and herpes viruses can be transmitted without any active symptoms so the person may not even be experiencing an outbreak but still be able to pass on the virus.
How can herpes and HPV be treated?
Neither virus can be totally cured — this is because once you become infected, the viruses remain in your body and no treatment can completely get rid of them. However, the symptoms of both HPV and herpes can be easily treated.
Pilot offers 2 treatment options for herpes, which means you can manage cold sores or genital herpes outbreaks and prevent future ones from occurring.
Pilot's Outbreak Therapy is designed to be taken at the first sign of a flare-up. This one-off course of antiviral medication helps shorten the duration of the herpes outbreak, lessens the severity of symptoms and offers fast relief. In fact, this treatment reduces outbreak duration by 50%.
The second option is Pilot's Suppressive Therapy, which helps prevent future outbreaks from occurring. This helps to protect you during stressful events and minimises the risk of passing it on to a partner. This treatment helps reduce recurrences by 80% and reduces transmission by around 50%.
While herpes can feel overwhelming, these treatments can help you live a healthy, normal life.
Aside from antiviral drugs, there are also several things you can do to reduce the pain of genital lesions caused by herpes.
Wearing cotton underwear and loose clothing, or removing clothing altogether if you're at home, helps to reduce rubbing and irritation of the blisters. Using an ice pack on the affected area, or soaking in a warm bath, can also help to relieve pain .
Warts caused by HPV often go away on their own in time, but there are treatments available to help get rid of them faster.
There are a number of over-the-counter products available to treat non-genital warts, such as solutions that freeze the wart or contain salicylic acid to help the skin peel off.
Genital warts can't be treated using over-the-counter products, but your doctor can prescribe you a topical cream or gel to help treat them .
What is the best way to prevent the spread of herpes and HPV?
As well as treating active herpes, antiviral medication can be used to suppress both herpes viruses and prevent recurring outbreaks of genital or oral herpes blisters — which is why Pilot's Suppressive Therapy does.
Alongside preventing outbreaks, this treatment also helps significantly lower the risk of giving the virus to another person. In fact, the risk of genital herpes transmission is around 2% per year when using suppressive treatments.
It's also recommended to use condoms in order to prevent the transmission of herpes. And, when using condoms and suppressive medication together, the risk of transmission drops to 1%.
When you do have an active cold sore or are experiencing genital lesions, refrain from kissing or engaging in sex during this time as it can help prevent transmission of the virus.
If you have oral herpes, it's also suggested you avoid sharing things like drinking glasses, cutlery and anything else that comes into contact with your mouth.
When it comes to HPV, the HPV vaccination helps to prevent several types of human papillomavirus. In women, the vaccine can help protect from 9 high-risk strains of HPV that cause more than 95% of HPV-related cancers .
In men, the HPV vaccine can help protect against genital warts as well as some anal, penile and throat cancers .
The protection of the HPV vaccine is expected to be life-long and since it was introduced in 2007, there has been a 90% reduction in genital warts in young Australians aged 15-20 years .
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