You’ve discovered bumps on your sex organs and perhaps also on or around your anus. They might not be bothersome, and it’s tempting to dismiss them as “one of those things,” even if they become painful. It’s possible the bumps could be nothing more than a minor irritation, such as from an ingrown hair or a grooming product. But if you’re a sexually active person, chances are excellent that your bumps are either genital warts or genital herpes. While there are similarities between the two conditions, they are fundamentally different. It’s important for you to understand the differences between genital warts and genital herpes.
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Do I Have Genital Warts or Herpes?
Genital warts and herpes can both infect you in the most intimate parts of your body, and they can both cause embarrassing bumps. They’re also transmitted when you have sex with a person who is infected with either condition. Both are the result of a virus infection. Nevertheless, there are important differences when you compare genital warts vs genital herpes.
For starters, genital warts and genital herpes are caused by different viruses. Genital warts are the result of infection by the human papilloma virus, or HPV. They are often referred to as HPV warts. You can learn about early genital warts here.
You develop genital herpes when a sex partner infects you with theherpes simplex virus. Also known as HSV, the virus has two varieties. HSV-1 infects your mouth and lips. It’s the source of fever blisters and cold sores. HSV-2 is the virus behind genital herpes.
Like HPV, HSV stays in your body. With either, you can experience periods of breakouts and periods when the virus is dormant.
What Are the Main Differences?
There are many differences in genital warts vs herpes. Infected males can have genital warts on their penis, their anus, and the skin between the penis and anus. Infected females may have genital warts on their vagina, their anus, and nearby areas. The warts may also grow inside the vagina and infect their cervix (the opening of the uterus). The warts may grow inside the anus or urethra on both sexes. Individuals who engage in oral sex may have a genital wart infection in their throats. If your question is do genital warts cause cancer, you’ll find the answers here.
Individuals can be infected by HPV and have warts without knowing they are infected. The warts can be very small and painless, especially at first. You can contract HPV and not have warts until years after the infection, and sometimes the warts never appear. You are contagious, however, and can pass the virus to your sex partners.
Although many people will never have noticeable symptoms if infected with the HPV-2 virus, most will usually have their first outbreak within two weeks of exposure. The first blisters are often more painful than later blisters. You will typically experience frequent outbreaks during the first year of infection. As time passes, the number of outbreaks decreases for most individuals.
One of the first indications that you have herpes is the appearance of numerous blisters on your genitalia. You may also develop blisters on your anus, buttocks, and thighs. The blisters can feel painful, itchy, or as they’re burning. You may also undergo what can be described as flu-like symptoms such as headaches or fever, and you may feel run-down. Women may experience a smelly discharge, leading them to believe they have a yeast infection rather than herpes.
After several days, the blisters will break. Then you’ll experience open sores which may form ulcers. After a couple weeks for most people, scabs will cover the sores and you’ll heal in about a month. You are extremely contagious until you’re completely healed.
Although experts believed that individuals were not contagious when the virus was dormant, recent research is disputing that. Some individuals can remain contagious for the remainder of their lives, even when there are no outward symptoms. Unless you are absolutely sure that neither you nor your partner has herpes, it’s a good idea to always use a condom during intercourse.
There is no cure for either genital warts or genital herpes. HPV can sometimes disappear without treatment.
HSV-2 outbreaks can be controlled with certain antiviral medicines such as:
These are not the same the medications used for genital warts.
How Else Are They Different?
You may be wondering how are genital warts and herpes the same as well as different. The biggest similarity is the fact that they both transmitted through sexual contact with a person who has been infected with the underlying virus. However, the viruses that cause them are different and are sometimes not as contagious as they are at other times. If either you or your sexual partner is infected, then using a condom can help prevent further infection. HPV is more easily transmitted via skin-to-skin contact than HSV, but a condom doesn’t always offer full protection against either.
In another difference between genital warts and herpes, HSV-2 travels via nerve cells before the blisters form. Individuals don’t know that the virus has left the dormant stage and became active. Once HSV is active, it’s contagious and will infect others. A person with HPV is always contagious whether the warts are visible or not, or even if the warts have been surgically removed. A strong immune system can help the body fight off either infection.
Individuals can be infected with both HPV genital warts and HSV-2 herpes at the same time. HSV can sometimes disappear on its own, but that’s rare. Antiviral treatment can suppress it in some individuals.
External genital warts can be removed by:
- Burning off,
- Creams or ointments,
- Freezing off,
Herpes blisters can be treated to help them heal, but they can’t be eliminated once an outbreak occurs. Your health care professional will help you decide whether to treat your genital warts or genital herpes first and the best course of treatment.
Genital herpes is usually more painful than genital warts. There’s more information here if you’re wondering do genital warts hurt.
Unless you are already both infected, you’re wise to avoid all sexual contact with a person who has genital herpes sores that are not fully healed. If you touch a herpes sore on yourself or anyone else, don’t touch any other part of your body until after you’ve thoroughly washed your hands.
A pregnant woman can transmit genital warts to her newborn during childbirth. It can be a serious condition for the baby, but usually isn’t life threatening. Genital herpes can have deadly consequences for unborn children, as it can cause a miscarriage or a stillborn fetus. If pregnant, you must stay in close contact with your medical provider to ensure a safe and healthy delivery of your baby.
It’s advisable to consult a health care practitioner for any bumps or lumps you notice on your genitalia or anus, especially if you experience pain, itching, or burning. They might be harmless pimples, but they could be genital warts or genital herpes. Either could be passed on to anyone with whom you have sex. Your best defense against both is to practice safe sex, follow a healthy lifestyle, and keep your immune system strong.