Difference between genital warts and genital herpes

The genitals are the most sensitive part of a person's body, and getting a wart or sore in your genital area can be highly excruciating and uncomfortable. Getting an STD or STI is stressful enough on its own, but having to figure out what it is can add more tension to an already stressful situation. However, there are practical ways to deal with it.

It is vital to understand the differences between types of genital sores or sexually transmitted infection outbreaks as it can allow you to have the proper window to get medical care along with the most effective treatment at the correct time. Considering this, the two most confusing STIs are genital herpes and genital warts. So, what exactly is the difference between these two?

What are Genital Warts?

For starters, let's try to understand genital warts. As the name suggests, when wart growths appear on or around the genitals, that is known as genital warts. Genital warts can be painful or uncomfortable and can even cause itching as well as sensations of burning. Now, typically, genital warts tend to be soft to touch and may vary in size.

The leading cause of genital warts is the sexually transmitted infection (STI) of specific strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). The strains that are typically responsible for causing genital warts are HPV-6 and HPV-11. However, keep in mind that these are not the strains that are often associated with cervical cancer.

According to medical experts, HPV is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, and nearly every sexually active person may experience HPV at some point in their lives.

What is Herpes?

Most of the time, herpes infections are caused by assorted strains of the herpes simplex virus (HSV). It is important to note that HSV-1, the virus often associated with oral herpes and cold sores, is incredibly common worldwide. Similarly, HSV-2, the virus known for causing genital herpes, is less common than HSV-1. However, it is still pretty standard around the world among individuals between 15-50.

Herpes infections can induce agonising blisters on the mouth or genitals. These blisters can appear on areas surrounding the mouth or genitalia, too. 

Symptoms of HPV and Herpes

Since both are classified under sexually transmitted diseases and infections, it is a given that both HPV and herpes can be transmitted by sexual contact. This sexual contact can include vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

One of the critical differences between HPV and herpes is that after exposure to HPV, it can take up to several weeks or even months before warts appear in the infected area. On the other hand, when it comes to genital herpes, it only takes 2-12 days for an infection to show symptoms.

However, remember that one can get exposed to herpes and contract the virus without going through an active outbreak of herpes blisters phase.

Symptoms of HPV and Genital Warts

  • Warts with a shape similar to that of cauliflower (the texture may vary in size, shape, and colour). Although sometimes warts are too small to be visible to the human eye.
  • Men may get warts on the penis, scrotum, groin, inner thighs, inside or around the anus, or even the area surrounding the buttocks.
  • Females may get warts on the cervix, inside or the area around the vagina, or inside or around the anus. They may also experience vaginal discharge, itching, bleeding, or a burning sensation.
  • Warts are not limited to the genitalia. Any area that makes contact with the infected area will result in warts. It can appear on the mouth, lips, tongue, or throat of someone who has contracted HPV through oral sex.

Symptoms of HSV-2 and Genital Herpes

  • Tiny, agonising, fluid-filled blisters may appear in or around the genitals, inner thighs, or in or around the anus.
  • Sensations of tingling, itching, and burning may be experienced about 1-3 days before the sores actually appear.
  • Fever of 38.3°C or higher.
  • Migraines or headaches.
  • Aches in the body.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Exhaustion or fatigue.
  • Fluid-filled blisters in or around the mouth, nose, chin or eyes of someone who contracted a herpes infection through oral sex.

Prevention Methods of HPV

In order to reduce the risk of developing or contracting genital warts, several precautions can be taken, which include:

  • Getting the HPV vaccine. The age limit for the vaccine is 9 to 45 years.
  • Never have unprotected sexual intercourse. Instead, opt for condoms, dental dams, or proper barrier protection methods during any type of sexual contact.
  • Avoid having sexual contact with people who have a current known outbreak of genital warts.

Prevention Methods for Herpes

In order to reduce the risk of genital herpes outbreaks, you can practice several precautionary measures. And they are:

  • Avoid kissing or having sexual contact with an individual who has an active herpes blister outbreak.
  • Avoid having unprotected sexual intercourse. Instead, always use condoms, dental dams, or some sort of proper barrier protection methods before having any sexual contact.
  • Make it a priority to discuss sexual history with all partners.
  • Try to limit sexual partners since the increased exposure through sexual activity can actually increase the risk of contracting and developing genital herpes.

Final Word

Genital warts and herpes are both viruses that have a few similarities, the most prominent being the common symptom of genital lesions. In addition to this, they both can cause no symptoms at all making it more complicated to identify them. However, it is wise to get a checkup and consult a doctor as soon as you spot any kind of irregularity concerning your genitalia.

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