Difference Between Genital Warts and Herpes

Genital warts are caused by human papillomavirus. Herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus. When genital warts ulcerate they look like herpes ulcers. But the similarities stop there.

Genital Warts

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a DNA virus which infects skin cells and mucus membranes. It can only multiply in dead skin cells. Human papillomavirus cannot bind to living cells. Most of the time HPV does not cause any symptoms, but some can cause warts such as common warts, ano-genital warts, flat warts, and plantar warts. Others can cause esophageal, vulval, penile, vaginal, pharyngeal, anal, and cervical cancers. Some types of HPV cause respiratory papillomatosis which features warts in the larynx and other regions of the respiratory tree. This can lead to obstruction of airways and bronchiectasis. HPV can go from mother to baby during vaginal birth. Some HPV types transmitted through sexual contact can cause genital warts. Chronic infection of high-risk types of HPV may lead to skin cancers. Recent studies have shown that HPV increases the risk of ischemic heart diseases. 30 to 40 types of HPV transmit through intimate sexual contact. These types of HPV tend to infect the anal and genital regions. HPV infection responds to antiviral drugs. Transmission can be prevented by barrier contraceptive methods and vaccination.


Herpes simplex virus 1 and 2 are responsible for a wide spectrum of disorders. Herpes falls into two main categories according to the site of infection: oro-facial and genital herpes. HSV 1 affects mouth, face, eyes, throat, and brain. HSV 2 causes ano-genital herpes. After the virus enters the body, it goes into the nerve cell bodies and remains dormant in ganglions. Antibodies formed against the virus after the first infection, prevent a second infection by the same type. Anyway the immune system is unable to remove the virus from the body completely.

Herpes gingivostomatitis affects the gums and mouth. This is the first presentation in most of the cases. It causes gum bleeding, sensitive teeth, and pain in gums. Blisters appear in groups, in the mouth. This comes on more severely than herpes labialis. Herpes labialis presents as groups of characteristic blisters on the lips. Genital herpes features clusters of papules and vesicle surrounded by inflamed skin on the outer surface of the penis or labia.

Herpetic whitlow is a very painful infection on the finger or toe nail cuticles. Herpetic whitlow is transmitted by contact. Fever, headache, swollen lymph node accompany herpetic whitlow. Herpes meningitis and encephalitis are thought to be due to retrograde migration of virus along the nerves to the brain. It affects the temporal lobe mainly. Herpes is the commonest cause of viral meningitis. Herpes esophagitis occurs in immune deficient individuals and feature painful difficult swallowing. Bell’s palsy and Alzheimer disease are known association of herpes.

Analgesics and antivirals are the main treatment methods. Barrier methods can prevent herpes. There is a high risk of transmission to the baby if the mother gets infected during the last days of pregnancy. Aciclovir can be given after 36 weeks. Caesarian section is recommended to minimize contact during delivery.

What is the difference between Genital Warts and Herpes?

• Human papillomavirus causes genital warts while herpes simplex virus causes genital herpes.

• There are 30-40 types of warts-causing viruses while only 2 types cause genital herpes.

• HPV infects only the skin while herpes infects other organs, as well.

• Herpes affects mouth, pharynx, esophagus, fingers, and brain while HPV does not affect the skin and mucus membranes.


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