Herpes and HPV are two of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the United States. While they’re distinct from one another, both can lead to symptoms that are sometimes mistaken for everyday pimples.
It’s crucial to understand the differences, not just for your peace of mind, but for your health and the health of those around you.
Herpes and HPV
Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV)
his virus comes in two main types: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 often results in oral herpes, manifesting as cold sores or fever blisters around the mouth. Most people with oral herpes contract it during childhood or young adulthood from non-sexual contact with saliva.
On the other hand, HSV-2 is primarily responsible for genital herpes. In 2018, there were an estimated 572,000 new genital herpes infections in the U.S. among people aged 14 to 491.
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
HPV is the most prevalent STI in the U.S. In 2018 alone, there were about 43 million HPV infections, many among young adults in their late teens and early 20s2. There are numerous types of HPV, some of which can lead to health issues like genital warts and various cancers.
Both herpes and HPV are primarily transmitted through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex. They can also spread through close skin-to-skin contact during intimate encounters.
Did you know that while HSV-1 typically causes oral herpes, it can spread to the genitals through oral sex? That’s why some cases of genital herpes are due to HSV-11.
We’ve all had them – those pesky pimples that pop up at the worst possible times. They’re characterized by redness, itching, and small bumps.
Now, imagine mistaking an STI for a simple pimple. It’s easier than you might think. Both herpes and HPV can present symptoms that resemble pimples, leading to confusion. This is why it’s essential not to jump to conclusions based on appearance alone.
Pro Tip: If you’re unsure about a bump or lesion, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional rather than making assumptions.
Herpes, whether oral or genital, can manifest in various ways. For some, it might be a blister or group of blisters around the mouth or on the genitals. These blisters can break, leaving painful sores that may take a week or more to heal. Some individuals might even experience flu-like symptoms during their first outbreak1.
It’s essential to note that herpes sores and regular pimples have distinct characteristics. For instance, herpes sores tend to be more painful and may be accompanied by other symptoms like fever or swollen glands.
HPV, or human papillomavirus, is a group of over 200 related viruses. While many of these don’t cause any noticeable symptoms, some can lead to warts on or around the genitals, anus, mouth, or throat. The more concerning types, known as high-risk HPVs, can lead to various cancers. For instance, HPV16 and HPV18 are responsible for most HPV-related cancers1.
Most people infected with HPV won’t even know they have it. However, persistent infections with high-risk types can lead to cell changes that might progress to cancer if left untreated. These changes can manifest in areas like the cervix, oropharynx (part of the throat), anus, penis, vagina, and vulva. It’s essential to note that while some HPV infections can lead to cancer, most do not. Your immune system usually controls these infections, preventing them from causing cancer1.
Did you know that nearly all sexually active people will get an HPV infection at some point in their lives? But don’t fret too much; most of these infections go away on their own without causing any health problems1.
Diagnosis and Testing
When it comes to diagnosing HPV or the diseases it can cause, there’s no single test that fits all. For women, regular cervical cancer screenings can detect precancerous cell changes caused by HPV. These screenings include the Pap test, which checks for cell changes, and the HPV test, which checks for the virus itself1.
For other HPV-related cancers, like those of the anus, vulva, vagina, penis, or oropharynx, there aren’t any FDA-approved tests for routine screening. However, research is ongoing to find effective screening methods for these areas1.
Regular check-ups with your healthcare provider are essential. Even if you feel perfectly fine, some HPV-caused cell changes can be silent, showing no symptoms until they’ve progressed.
Treatment and Management
While there’s no cure for an HPV infection itself, treatments are available for the health problems it can cause. For instance, precancerous cervical cell changes can be treated with procedures like the loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP).
Other issues, like genital warts or precancerous lesions in the vagina, vulva, penis, and anus, can be treated with topical medicines, surgical excision, cryosurgery, or laser therapy1.
For those who develop an HPV-related cancer, the treatment typically aligns with the standard treatments for cancers at that specific site, whether or not HPV caused it1.
Diagnosis and Testing
When it comes to diagnosing herpes or HPV, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional.
For herpes, many individuals may not show symptoms or might mistake mild symptoms for other skin conditions, such as pimples or ingrown hairs. Herpes sores typically manifest as blisters around the genitals, rectum, or mouth. These blisters can break, leading to painful sores that might take a week or more to heal. Sometimes, flu-like symptoms might accompany the first outbreak. A healthcare provider can diagnose herpes by examining any present sores or by taking a sample from the sore for testing. Blood tests can also be used to check for HSV antibodies.
HPV, on the other hand, is a bit trickier. There isn’t a test to determine one’s “HPV status,” and there’s no approved HPV test for the mouth or throat. However, there are HPV tests that screen for cervical cancer, which are typically used for women aged 30 and above. Most individuals with HPV are unaware of their infection, as they don’t develop symptoms. Some might discover their HPV status when they develop genital warts or receive an abnormal Pap test result.
Treatment and Management
While there’s no cure for herpes, there are medications available that can prevent or reduce outbreaks. Taking antiviral medications daily can also reduce the likelihood of transmitting the infection to sexual partners.
For those with HPV, while the virus itself can’t be treated, the health issues it causes can be managed. Genital warts, for instance, can be treated with prescription medicine or procedures by a healthcare provider. Cervical precancer can be treated, and routine Pap tests can detect problems before they escalate into cancer.
Prevention is the best approach when it comes to both herpes and HPV. For herpes, practicing safe sex by using condoms can reduce the risk, though it’s essential to note that herpes can infect areas not covered by a condom. For HPV, vaccines are available that can protect against the most dangerous types of the virus.
Regular cervical cancer screenings for women are also crucial. Being in a mutually monogamous relationship and having open communication with partners about STIs can further reduce risks.
Navigating the world of STIs like herpes and HPV can be daunting. However, with the right information, regular screenings, and open communication, it’s possible to manage and even prevent these infections. Always prioritize your health and well-being, and never hesitate to seek medical advice if you notice any unusual symptoms. By staying informed and proactive, we can combat the misconceptions surrounding these infections and lead healthier, more informed lives. Remember, knowledge is power!