The World Health Organisation estimates that over 1 million cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) occur each day (1). Quite alarming, right? This brings us to the discussion of genital warts (HPV) and herpes. Both are STIs, occur on the genital area, and have similar symptoms. However, there is a difference between the two. This article explores the key differences between genital warts and herpes, causes, symptoms, and treatment. Read on to know more.
What Are Genital Warts?
Genital warts (Condylomata acuminata) are one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). The warts appear like flesh-colored itchy bumps on the genitals. HPV is a highly contagious virus transmitted through genital, oral, and anal sexual contact (2). Herpes is quite different from genital warts. Let’s find out.
What Is Herpes?
Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The two types of viruses – HSV1 and HSV-2 may affect any body part, including genitals, and cause pimple-like bumps, blisters, and itchy scabs.
The Centre for Disease Control estimates that approximately over five lakh people are diagnosed with herpes every year in the United States. Out of this, 11.9% of the people are between 14 and 49 years (3), (4).
The symptoms of herpes and genital warts may differ in numerous aspects. Let’s take a look at them.
Genital Warts Vs. Herpes: Symptoms
Genital Warts Herpes
- Small flesh-colored bumps in the genital area Red blisters and bumps around the genitals
- Itching in the genital area Pain, tenderness, and itching in the genital area
- Bleeding from the genital during intercourse
- Blisters may rupture and bleed and cause pain during urination.
- Warts may multiply into clusters The skin might crust and form scabs
The symptoms of genital warts and herpes seem to be similar. However, you can distinguish them by their appearance. Herpes and genital warts spread through skin-to-skin contact. Let’s learn in detail.
How Do You Get Herpes And Genital Warts?
You can contract genital warts through:
- Unprotected vaginal and anal intercourse and oral sex
- Sharing sex toys with an infected person
In rare cases, it may be passed down from the mother to her child.
- Body fluids like saliva (through oral sex or kissing)
- Unprotected sexual intercourse
- Touching active sores
It can be passed on from the mother to her newborn child (neonatal herpes).
Avoid sexual intercourse with a partner who may have either genital warts or herpes. It’s better to get tested to avoid spreading the infection. Both STIs are non-curable. However, an early diagnosis can help control the symptoms. Check out the treatment options in the next section.
Genital Warts Vs. Herpes: Treatment Options
Since both are non-curable, doctors usually resort to either prevention or managing the symptoms.
For managing herpes, doctors may prescribe:
- Antiviral medications and creams like acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir
For managing genital warts, doctors may prescribe
- Podophyllotoxin gel or cream to clear warts. Clinical trials found 0.5% podofilox to be quite effective in wart removal (5).
- Cryotherapy also helps remove genital warts (6). This procedure uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy warts.
However, remember that the treatment methods can treat the symptoms but not eliminate or cure the virus.
Wrapping It Up
Genital warts and herpes are STIs caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes simplex virus (HSV), respectively. Both are non-curable, but an early diagnosis can help manage the symptoms through prescription medications and procedures. So, it is best to practice safe sex and avoid skin contact with a person who has them. And always consult a doctor for treatment if you notice the symptoms. This will help you manage the infection and avoid discomfort.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
Do genital warts mean you have an STD?
Yes. Genital warts are caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
Are warts and cold sores related?
No. Cold sores are fluid-filled, painful blisters on the lips caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), while warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
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- Sexually Transmitted Infections
- Genital Warts
- Genital Herpes
- Herpes Simplex Virus
- ‘A Double-blind\’ Randomized Trial of 0.5% Podofilox and Placebo for the Treatment of Genital Warts in Women
- Cryotherapy of Genital Warts