HPV vs. herpes: what's the difference?

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on February 11, 2021. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.


Sexually transmitted infections (STIs or STDs) are very common and can be easily transmitted through sexual intercourse, even if an infected person doesn’t show symptoms. Two STDs—human papillomavirus (HPV) and herpes—are similar in some ways but can have very different implications for your health.

Want to learn more about HPV vs. herpes? Here we explore both of these viruses, their symptoms, associated health risks, and more—so keep reading.


The at-home HPV Test from Everlywell allows you to collect your own sample using a vaginal swab from the comfort of your home and send it to a lab for HPV testing—plus, you receive your digital results in days. The test lets you screen for fourteen high-risk HPV genotypes (types of HPV associated with increased cervical cancer risk), including HPV 16 and 18.


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Is HPV the same as herpes?

While HPV and herpes are similar in many ways, they are two different viruses with different effects on the body and on your health.

HPV

HPV, or the human papillomavirus, is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI or STD) in the United States, with millions of new cases being reported each year. You can get HPV by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who has the virus, even if they don’t show any signs or symptoms. There is no cure for HPV, but the virus usually goes away on its own.

In the case that the infection does not go away, HPV may contribute to health problems like genital warts and—if the person is infected with high-risk HPV genotypes—certain kinds of cancer (such as cervical cancer).

Herpes

Herpes is another common virus that causes sores on your genitals and/or mouth.

Herpes is caused by two different but similar viruses: herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2). Both kinds can produce sores on and around your vulva, vagina, cervix, anus, penis, scrotum, butt, inner thighs, lips, mouth, throat, and rarely, your eyes. While herpes is not curable, there are treatments to help alleviate symptoms when you have a flare-up.

You can get HPV and genital herpes from an infected partner, even if your partner has no symptoms. This is why it’s so important to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself, including by using a latex condom every time you have sexual intercourse and regular screening for STDs.


Check for 6 common STDs from the privacy and convenience of home with the Everlywell at-home STD Test for women or STD Test for men (note that these panels do not test for herpes).


Symptoms of HPV

In most cases, your body's immune system fights off an HPV infection before it creates warts or causes symptoms. However, if warts do appear, they vary in appearance depending on which kind of HPV is involved.

Symptoms of HPV may include:

  • Genital warts
  • Plantar warts (warts on the bottom of the feet)
  • Flat warts (found throughout the body, including the face and back of the hands)

If you are experiencing symptoms that could be related to HPV, consult with your healthcare provider and consider getting tested for sexually transmitted infections.

Symptoms of herpes

The most common symptom of herpes is having a group of itchy or painful blisters on your vagina, vulva, cervix, anus, penis, scrotum, butt, or the inside of your thighs. The blisters often break and turn into sores.

However, other signs of herpes may include:

  • Itching
  • Pain around genitals
  • Swollen glands in your pelvic area, throat, and under your arms
  • Burning during urination if your urine touches the herpes sores
  • Trouble urinating because the sores and swelling are blocking your urethra
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Feeling achy and tired

Can HPV turn into herpes?

HPV and HSV-2 are both common sexually transmitted infections, but they are independent of each other and cannot "turn into" the other.

According to the CDC, HPV is so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get the virus at some point in their lives. Herpes is also very common with the CDC estimating over half a million new genital herpes cases in the U.S. every year.

HPV and genital herpes are similar in many ways, including:

  • They can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, and oral sex
  • They have similar symptoms, such as genital lesions
  • They can show no symptoms at all
  • There is no permanent cure for the virus

One factor that makes HPV significantly different than herpes? Certain types of HPV can heighten the risk of developing certain kinds of cancer, such as cervical cancer. Most HPV types aren’t associated with this risk, but several are (particularly HPV 16 and 18); fortunately, testing for high-risk HPV types is possible and can let you know as early as possible if you’re at an increased risk of cervical or other cancers.

Can you get rid of HPV once you have it?

In most cases, HPV goes away on its own and does not cause any health problems. However, in the case that it does not go away, HPV may cause genital warts and—depending on the type of HPV infection—cancer.

While there is currently no cure for HPV, there are treatments available to help manage your symptoms if you do have the infection.

If you are sexually active, consider getting tested for HPV and regularly screening for other STIs to catch any infection as early as possible. To screen for high-risk HPV genotypes from the privacy and convenience of home, you can take the Everlywell HPV Test. (The kit includes everything you need to collect a vaginal swab sample at home and send it to a lab for HPV testing.)

What STD can be mistaken for herpes?

Because herpes has symptoms that can mirror the symptoms associated with various other viruses and conditions, it is easy to mistake herpes for something else.

Herpes symptoms can be mistaken for many other things, including:

  • A different STI that causes visible lesions, such as syphilis or HPV
  • Irritation caused by shaving
  • Ingrown hairs
  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
  • Pimples
  • Yeast infections
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Bug bites

If you suspect you may have a herpes infection, consult with your healthcare physician to get tested for herpes.


Want to test for STDs from the comfort of your own home? Screening for high-risk HPV genotypes (including HPV 16 and 18) can be done from home with the at-home HPV Test. Everlywell also offers STD tests for men and women so you can check for 6 other common sexually transmitted infections, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis C, HIV, and trichomoniasis.

After you receive your kit, you collect your sample at home, send it to a lab for testing, and receive your digital results in days.


How to prevent HPV: here’s what you can do

What does a Pap smear test for?

What does an abnormal Pap smear mean?


References

1. Genital HPV Infection - Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 11, 2021.

2. Genital Herpes - CDC Fact Sheet. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 11, 2021.

3. HPV infection. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 11, 2021.

4. Genital herpes. Mayo Clinic. URL. Accessed February 11, 2021.

5. Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 11, 2021.

6. Genital Herpes - CDC Fact Sheet (Detailed). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. URL. Accessed February 11, 2021.

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