Although they both affect the genitals and are transmitted through sexual contact, genital herpes and genital warts are two very different sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). This virus comes in two forms: HSV-1 that affects the lips and mouth and causes fever blisters, and HSV-2 that causes blisters to form on the genitals, anus, thighs, and buttocks. The disease lives in the body but goes through periods of activity and dormancy.
When activated, the virus travels down the nerves to the infected skin where its activity causes blisters to form. After a few days, those blisters burst and turn into open sores or ulcers. Eventually, scabs form over the wounds and the sores heal. The whole process can take as long as 4 weeks to complete. A person is highly contagious while the disease is active in his or her body.
A person who is newly infected with genital herpes will experience their first outbreak within 14 days. They may have multiple outbreaks during their first year, but the number of outbreaks will gradually reduce each year thereafter.
Genital warts are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), of which there are 70 types. HPV is common in men and women. However, the majority of people have no symptoms of the disease. To complicate things, the warts can form on the walls of a woman’s vagina and cervix and can only be detected during a gynecological examination.
The warts are typically flesh colored, look like cauliflower tops, and may be raised or flat. They can form inside or outside the vagina or anus, the cervix or vaginal walls, the penis, scrotum, thighs, lips, mouth, tongue, throat, hands, and basically any part of the body.
HPV is unpredictable. Even if you cannot see the warts, you can still spread or contract the human papilloma virus from an infected partner. Warts may begin developing 6 weeks to 6 months after infection. However, not everyone who comes into contact with HPV will develop genital warts and, in some people, the disease will stay dormant for years before producing warts.
Symptoms of genital warts include increased vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding during sex, itching, and dampness near the warts in the genital area. Genital warts can affect any person of any age or gender. Sex is the primary mode of transmission. Children can also get genital warts, but this may be an indicator of sexual abuse.
Some forms of genital warts can cause cervical cancer. There is no cure for HPV and treatment for genital warts typically involves medication such as Wartrol, Aldara, skin treatments, or surgical removal of the warts.
Both conditions are recognizable, and you should be checked out by a doctor as soon as possible if you begin exhibiting the signs of genital herpes or genital warts. Your doctor will likely prescribe medication to treat the condition, but be aware that they can cause side effects.