Herpes vs HPV: how are they different?

Both herpes and HPV tend to be associated with sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but how are they different? 

Dr. Rasanathan, MD, answers some questions about these conditions here.

Herpes vs HPV

Herpes is a viral infection that has two types HSV-1 and HSV-2. You can get oral, as well as genital herpes. 

Herpes is known for the ‘’cold sores’’ that it produces.

herpes vs hpv image of herpes shedding

HPV, however, is human papillomavirus. There are many different forms, or strains, of this virus. 

Believe it or not, it is estimated that approximately 80% of people who are sexually active will contract HPV at some point. 


And if that’s not enough


many experts believe that virtually all sexually active adults have been infected by HPV.

The virus is so common because HPV can be spread through nearly all forms of physical sexual activity, and it can also be transmitted through skin to skin contact. 

Luckily most strains of HPV are harmless and will resolve on their own. 

Many experts believe that virtually all sexually active adults have been infected by HPV.

But that’s just part of the story. 

There are some strains that can cause cancer. These include cancer of the head and neck, cervical, penile and anal cancer

Cervical cancer, for example, is the fourth most common cancer among women.

Yes, you read that right. 

Approximately 530,000 cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed worldwide and 260,000 women die of cervical cancer every year. 

With both HPV and herpes, you can treat outbreaks of the infection, but you cannot cure the infection.


So how about genital warts?

Genital warts are caused by certain strains of HPV. How they look can vary, but they usually appear as bumps in the genital area. 

It’s important to know that genital warts spread through genital contact, so they can appear in other parts of the body such as the mouth. 

Most genital warts will clear up by themselves. 

However the treatment for warts can include freezing, applying creams, laser treatment and even surgery in rare cases.

How is a cold sore different than a pimple?

Both cold sores and pimples are raised lesions found on the skin. A cold sore is caused by the herpes virus, while pimples are caused by bacteria infecting the oil glands in our skin. 

Cold sores tend to appear around the lips and mouth area. They are blisters with clear fluid in them. 

Pimples produce pus and we tend to find them on the face or back. Both cold sores and pimples will go away by themselves with time. 

Both pimples and cold sores may cause scarring as they heal. It’s important not to pick at or scratch the affected area during the healing process.


Pain, burning, tingling, and itching are common to both. These symptoms may last up to almost 50 hours prior to the appearance of any cold sores. 

How can we protect ourselves from HPV and Herpes?

The HPV vaccination or immunization is the most effective method of prevention against HPV while there is no vaccination available for herpes. 

In Italy, free HPV vaccination has been offered to 12 years-old girls since 2007, while for males only since 2015.

For women, regular cervical screening or “pap smears” is important to detect early cervical cancer and provide reassurance.

The only method of guaranteed protection from STIs is abstaining from sex. 

But practising safe sex will reduce your chances of these STIs. The more often you use latex condoms, the lower the risk of transmission.

Talk your sexual partner(s) about their sexual history. 

Use condoms and get regular STI checks

See your doctor if you have any concerns as soon as possible.

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Picture of Dushiyanthi Rasanathan, MD

Dushiyanthi Rasanathan, MD

Dr. Dushiyanthi Rasanathan is a medical doctor working in New Zealand, and trained at the University of Auckland. Aside from clinical medicine, she has interests in medical education and representation. Outside of medicine, Dushiyanthi's passions are travelling, hiking and writing. She has had several experiences of navigating a foreign health system, and hopes that her articles will help other travellers with their health queries.