Can Genital Warts Be Mistaken for Herpes?

Reviewed on 2/9/2021

What is genital warts vs. herpes?

Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection that causes lesions on the penis, vaginal and buttocks. Herpes are also a sexually transmitted infection that cause ulcers and blisters on the genitals, anus and mouth. Genital warts may be mistaken for herpes because both cause genital lesions.
Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection that causes lesions on the penis, vaginal and buttocks. Herpes are also a sexually transmitted infection that cause ulcers and blisters on the genitals, anus and mouth. Genital warts may be mistaken for herpes because both cause genital lesions.

What are genital warts?

Genital warts are a sexually transmitted infection that causes the appearance of one or more warts on the penis, buttocks, and vaginal area. You may get genital warts through vaginal and anal sex, sharing sex toys, and, rarely, by oral sex.

What is herpes?

Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection that may cause blisters and ulcers on the genitals, anus or mouth.

What are symptoms and signs of genital warts vs. herpes? 

Genital warts symptoms 

If you have genital warts, you may have one or more bumps in your body.

If you are female, you may notice a new growth:

If you are male you may find a wart:

  • On your penis
  • On your scrotum, groin, or thigh
  • In or around your anus
  • On your lips, mouth, throat, or tongue

Genital warts may also cause you itchiness, burning, and discomfort.

Herpes symptoms 

In most cases, herpes may not cause any symptoms. You may experience some mild symptoms that could lead you to not take this condition seriously. 

You may experience symptoms like:


 

What are the causes of genital warts vs. herpes? 

Causes of genital warts 

You may get genital warts from:

  • Engaging in sex acts (vaginal, anal, or oral) with an infected person
  • Touching genitals with an infected person (even without penetrative sex)
  • Inheriting from mother to child during childbirth

Causes of herpes 

You may get the herpes virus by coming into close direct contact with an infected person. Some of these contact methods include:

  • Having vaginal, anal, or oral unprotected sex (without a condom)
  • Kissing
  • Sharing unwashed sex toys
  • Touching genitals. You may get herpes even if you did not ejaculate or did not penetrate.
  • Skin to skin contact with a partner with no visible sores or symptoms
  • You may also spread herpes to your child during delivery. This is most likely to happen if you are showing no signs or symptoms with no sores visible.

How to diagnose genital warts vs. herpes

Genital warts diagnosis

When you get to your doctor, they may first take your medical history to ask you about your sexual habits. They may also ask if you have had a history of sexually transmitted infections.

After that, your doctor may go on to do a physical examination to look for any signs of genital warts.

Your doctor may also do tests like:

  • Tissue biopsy: A small piece of tissue is taken for lab tests
  • Anoscopy: If you have no visible warts or blisters on the skin, your doctor may insert an instrument into your anus (anoscope) to check for warts beyond the skin
  • Colposcopy: This test is only possible in females. Your doctor may check for warts in your vagina and cervix using a colposcope.
  • Papanicolaou (Pap) smear

Herpes diagnosis 

When you go to your doctor suspecting you have herpes, they may first take a medical history. Then they will inspect and examine any sores that you might have.

Your doctor may decide to swab the sore and test it in the lab to confirm a herpes simplex diagnosis. If you do not have any visible sores your doctor may take a blood sample for testing. That will be enough to make a diagnosis of the herpes simplex virus.

Treatments of genital warts vs. herpes?

Genital warts treatment

Depending on your condition, your doctor may recommend the following for treatment:

  • Cream or liquid: In this treatment, you apply the cream or liquid on warts a few times every week for several weeks. You may experience some soreness or irritation with this treatment method.
  • Freezing: Here your doctor uses liquid nitrogen to freeze warts every week for four weeks. This treatment may also cause some burning sensation and soreness at the site of the wart. 
  • Surgery: This method involves operating, burning, or using a laser to cut off warts. Your doctor may recommend this method of treatment if your warts are not responding to treatment. It may leave a scar, cause bleeding, or lead to a wound infection.

If you leave your warts untreated for long, they may increase in size and number. You also increase the risk of spreading the condition to other partners.

Herpes treatment 

There is no cure for herpes. Antiviral medications like acyclovir, famciclovir, and valacyclovir, may help to reduce the severity and frequency of symptoms but will not permanently treat the infection.

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References
SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology Association: "GENITAL WARTS: DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT."

American Academy of Dermatology Association: "HERPES SIMPLEX: DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT."

Avert: " GENITAL HERPES SYMPTOMS & TREATMENT."

familydoctor.org: " Herpes."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Genital Warts."

NHS: "Genital Warts."

NHS Inform: "Genital Herpes."

NHS Inform: "Genital Warts."

Women's Health: "Genital warts."

World Health Organization: "Billions worldwide living with herpes."

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