Genital warts are one of the more alarming problems people can have in their genital area. The cause of warts is frequently and fearfully misdiagnosed as everything from herpes to HIV. In truth, there is no such thing as an HIV wart. However, warts and HIV do have a few important connections that are worth noting when you are experiencing genital warts as a symptom. Discover what truly causes the “HIV wart” and whether you should be immediately concerned below.
Table of Contents
Do genital warts lead to HIV?
Before you panic about the appearance of warts on your genitals, understand that genital warts do not lead to HIV. HIV genital warts is a misnomer, which unfortunately has continued to impact those who neglected to do proper research. The only cause of the human immunodeficiency virus is through direct contact with infected bodily fluids of another person who already has HIV. Genital warts however, stem from an HPV infection, which is both entirely unrelated and significantly less serious.
The natural progression of warts in the genital area does not lead to any other diseases or issues besides rare complications from wart numbers or location. In the same token, the natural progression of the human immunodeficiency virus does not lead to genital warts in people who are not already infected with HPV.
Since HPV is the only cause of genital warts, you can be sure of an HPV infection if you have warts in these locations:
- In or around the anus.
- Within the rectum.
- On the vulva.
- Inside the vaginal canal.
- On the cervix.
- On the penis.
- On the scrotum.
- In or around the urethral opening.
- Very rarely in the mouth.
Are genital warts a symptom of HIV?
This can be a complicated question when not fully understood. For starters, genital warts are not a symptom of HIV by itself. As stated previously, the only cause of genital warts is an HPV infection. Here is where it gets tricky. All viruses thrive off of a weakened immune system, this includes both HPV and HIV. Whereas HIV causes a weakened immune system, HPV is the virus that can ultimately enjoy the advantages of this created weakness. Genital warts are known to pop up in HPV infected people when the strength of their immune system is low for any reason.
HPV is diagnosed visually most often because it has symptoms unrelated to any other disease. Either pre-cancerous cell changes visible on the cervix or genital warts both automatically reveal the presence of HPV. HIV is diagnosed via a blood or saliva test and unlike HPV, has no visible symptoms which appear in HIV infections and nothing else.
The false assumption that warts stem from HIV came due to the fact that HPV infected individuals who were healthy sometimes never have warts appear. Yet once an HIV infection takes hold, warts begin to appear. HIV does not cause the warts in these cases, they have only weakened the body enough that an HPV infection can cause more symptoms, including warts. So in the grand scheme of things, the appearance of genital warts can be a symptom that something is wrong with your body, besides your HPV infection. So it can be worth getting checked out.
What is the difference between HIV and HPV?
One of the primary differences between HIV and HPV is the progression of the viral infection. In HIV, without treatment the infection will continue to cripple your immune system until it is incapable of fighting off any sicknesses at all. At this point it will progress to AIDS and people generally die from a simple illness that can’t be fought with a defeated immune system. Untreated HIV ultimately results in death.
HPV on the other hand can progress to warts or cancer. The large majority of people infected with HPV defeat the virus alone, with no medication or treatment needed. Most of the time warts never even appear, though any cancers will need to be treated. HPV is not life-threatening and is only a cause for concern with cancer causing strains.
Transmission is another source of very stark differences between the two sexually transmitted infections.
HIV can be spread from:
- Mother to baby during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
- Sharing used needles.
- Unprotected anal, oral and vaginal sex.
- Infected blood products.
- Any bodily fluid contact from an infected person, including bites from infected persons.
For HPV, methods of transmission are as follows:
- Anal, vaginal and oral sex both protected and unprotected.
- Vigorous skin-to-skin and skin to genital mucous membrane contact, particularly with warts.
HPV can be spread even when using protection during sex, condoms offer little prevention. This is because it is spread through the skin as opposed to semen and vaginal secretions. HIV, on the other hand, is spread through blood, semen and vaginal secretions. Skin-to-skin contact without the skin being broken will not transmit HIV.
What should I know about interactions between HIV and HPV?
HPV and HIV have interactions that should be noted, so that any individual infected with one or both is aware of what this means for them. For starters, anyone already infected with the human papillomavirus has a generously increased risk of being infected with HIV after exposure. So be aware if you are engaging in sexual activity with an HIV positive partner that your chance of being infected with HIV have nearly doubled.
Secondly, the likelihood of cancer in people with high-risk HPV strains is increased when they are also infected with HIV. When your immune system is weakened by an HIV infection, it is less likely to be strong enough to kill abnormal cells before they develop into cancer.
Warts are the main issue in relation to HPV and HIV interactions. You can have HPV with zero warts, never know it existed and have it in a dormant state within your body. Once you are infected with HIV and immunosuppression occurs, warts may suddenly appear, spread quickly and grow rapidly in size and number. HPV takes full advantage when your immune system is unable to fight off warts. Similar outbreaks can occur when women are pregnant, but HIV stimulated outbreaks are likely to be far worse and persistent. In these ways HIV and HPV can assist one another with more symptoms to your detriment.
HIV warts is a misnomer that does not reveal the actual cause of warts. While HIV can indeed worsen warts or an underlying HPV infection, it is only HPV that causes genital warts. HPV and HIV differ in several different ways, including transmission, progression and the prognosis of the infection.
HPV is in most cases harmless and will clear up on its own while HIV will lead to serious complications and death if left untreated. The two sexually transmitted infections both create favorable environments for the infection, spread or worsening of one another despite being distinctly different in nature.