What is the Difference Between HPV and Herpes Virus?

HPV and herpes are common sexually transmitted infections that can affect a person’s skin. However, each virus involved is different. Infections require different treatments and can have different long-term effects on the body.

HPV is an abbreviation for human papillomavirus. Herpes simplex virus (HSV) causes herpes. There are also different types of each of these viruses. Each type causes different symptoms and can affect different parts of the body. There is no cure for either HPV or herpes.

This article looks at the differences between HPV and herpes, including their symptoms and methods of treatment and prevention.

Key Differences Between HPV and Herpes

The most important differences between these two viral infections are summarized in the table below:

HPV Pale
How is it spread? skin contact with someone who has an infection, including vaginal, anal, or oral sex contact with the skin or saliva of a person with the infection, including vaginal, anal, or oral sex
Key symptoms genital warts sores around the mouth or genitals, flu-like symptoms
Diagnosis cervical cancer screening examination of symptoms
Treatment medicine for genital warts, health checks for high-risk HPV medicine to shorten epidemics


There are different types of HPV and herpes viruses that can have a variety of symptoms.

There are two different types of the herpes virus:

  • HSV-1 typically causes oral herpes, which affects the skin around the mouth. Sometimes it can affect the skin around the genitals.
  • HSV-2 typically causes genital herpes, which affects the skin around the genital area and anus. Sometimes it can affect the skin around the mouth.

While more than 1 in 6 people aged 14-49 years in the United States have genital herpes, about 50 percent of adults in the country have oral herpes.

A person can transmit both herpes during oral sex. Oral herpes can be spread by kissing, and most people get it as a child.

Both types of herpes cause itchy blisters to form on the skin, which can crack to form sores. When blisters appear in or around the mouth, they are known as herpes.

Herpes can also appear on the lips and appear in clusters. The surrounding skin may be red, cracked, or irritated. The sores usually do not last longer than a few weeks.

Herpes blisters can come and go. When they occur, they are often called epidemics. When a person first experiences an outbreak, they may also have flu symptoms.

Outbreaks usually become less painful over time. As a person ages, outbreaks tend to occur less frequently and have shorter durations. Some people stop owning them altogether.

Herpes blisters are usually fluid-filled and can be painful. They appear grouped together in the skin and can appear around:

  • vulva
  • vagina
  • inner thighs
  • anus
  • penis

Additional symptoms associated with genital herpes include:

  • itching
  • pain around the genitals
  • burning sensation when urinating

Herpes is usually not a life-threatening condition.


HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States, where 79 million people have it.

There are many types of HPV and they can cause different symptoms. Most types do not cause serious health problems, but some can cause cancer.

The medical community considers HPV types 6 and 11 to be low-risk strains because they are unlikely to cause serious medical problems. However, they cause 90 percent of all genital warts.

Genital warts can develop when:

  • penis
  • scrotum
  • anus
  • vulva
  • vagina
  • cervix, cervix

These warts appear soft, pale and fleshy. They do not cause symptoms and medical professionals can remove them if necessary.

High-risk types of HPV can cause cancer, and these strains are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer. Some types of HPV also cause cancer of the genitals, anus, mouth, or throat.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women ages 21 to 65 get tested for cervical cancer, also known as a Pap smear or Pap test. This scan can detect any changes that HPV makes to cells.

Who is at Risk?

Anyone who is sexually active is at risk of contracting HPV unless they have a vaccine for the virus. People are at risk of contracting herpes if they are sexually active or come in contact with the skin or saliva of others with the virus.

Individuals with weakened or suppressed immune systems may 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 been infected.


Herpes testing is not usually part of a routine sexual health screening. If a person has symptoms, they may request a test from their doctor or a sexual health clinic.

It is not possible to test for all types of HPV. In addition, the infection is so common that HPV testing 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 may have no symptoms or have symptoms so mild that the person may not be aware of them.

A medical professional can usually diagnose HPV or herpes if a person has symptoms. After controlling for symptoms, they may recommend testing if available.


There is no cure for herpes or HPV. However, treatment can address the symptoms and complications of viruses.

HPV treatment:

  • If a healthcare professional detects precancerous changes after testing, a person will undergo further follow-up testing.
  • A medical professional can remove a person’s warts, although they rarely cause symptoms, and removal is not always necessary.

Herpes treatment:

  • a person can take medication to shorten the duration of herpes viruses and reduce their frequency
  • wearing loose-fitting clothing can help reduce irritation from blisters
  • keeping skin clean and dry promotes wound healing
  • pain medications can help with symptoms

A person may not need treatment if they have no symptoms or their symptoms are mild.


Some types of HPV can cause cancer, which usually develops long after the initial infection. Some people with these types of viruses do not develop cancer.

Screening and awareness of early cancer symptoms can help ensure timely treatment.

During a genital herpes outbreak, a person will have blisters on their skin that can break easily.

A person with a cracked wound on or near the genitals has a higher risk of contracting HIV from a partner because broken skin makes it easier for the virus to enter the bloodstream.

If a person with HIV is taking antiretroviral drugs as prescribed and has a consistently suppressed viral load, medical professionals believe that the risk of sexually transmitting the virus to an HIV-negative partner is ineffective. Research on this continues.

Complications during pregnancy

A pregnant woman can safely participate in cervical screening for HPV. In some cases, an HPV infection can lead to pregnancy loss or delivery before full term.

Genital herpes can cause serious complications for pregnant women. Herpes can be passed to a baby during birth. This can cause a serious infection called neonatal herpes.

If a pregnant woman has genital herpes, the doctor may prescribe herpes remedies towards the end of the term. If there are symptoms of genital herpes near the time of delivery, a doctor will usually recommend a cesarean delivery.


A person can greatly reduce their risk of contracting HPV and herpes by using a condom or dental dam with every sexual intercourse, including oral sex.

However, these viruses can live on the skin around the genitals, so it’s possible to get HPV or herpes even when using protection.

Oral herpes is spread through contact with saliva or herpes. This can result from mouth-to-mouth contact, such as when kissing. The virus cannot live outside the body, so a person cannot cover it from objects such as bedding or a toilet bowl.

A person with genital herpes can take some precautions to avoid passing it on to their partner:

  • taking anti-herpes medications every day
  • avoiding sexual contact when herpes is out

Avoid touching wounds as this can spread the virus to other parts of the body.

There is no vaccine for herpes, but there is an HPV vaccine. The CDC recommends that children ages 11 to 12 get vaccinated for HPV. The vaccine is also available for adults up to age 27 if they did not receive the vaccine as a child.


HPV and herpes share similar qualities, but it’s 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 symptoms and transmission of both. The HPV vaccine 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 has more on how to have safer sex.

MedicalNewsToday, How are HPV and herpes different?, 2018


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