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HPV vs. HIV: What's the Difference?

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HPV and HIV are both sexually transmitted infections caused by viruses. However, they are two different conditions. The viruses that cause HPV infections are different from the virus that causes HIV infection. The symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and outlook for HIV and HPV are also different. 

However, there are some links between HPV and HIV. People living with HIV are more susceptible to HPV compared to healthy individuals. Also, people with HIV can experience more severe HPV symptoms. For these reasons, HPV prevention is especially important for anyone who has HIV. 

Please continue reading to learn more about the difference between HPV and HIV.

What is HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)?

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a virus that targets the body’s immune system. Specifically, it targets CD4 cells, which are a type of white blood cells. These cells help the body fight infections. Therefore, having HIV makes a person more vulnerable to other infections. 

HIV Transmission

HIV is frequently transmitted through sexual intercourse or sharing needles with a person who has HIV. 

HIV Symptoms

Many people develop symptoms of a flu-like illness around 2-4 weeks after exposure to the HIV virus. Symptoms usually consist of fever, chills, rash, sore throat, fatigue, and muscle aches. However, since these symptoms are not specific, many people with HIV are unaware that they have contracted the virus until it is discovered on routine STI testing. 

HIV Treatment

There is no cure for HIV, but there are many effective treatments available. These treatments can slow the progression of the disease and prevent transmission of HIV to others. If left untreated, HIV can advance to a disease called AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), which can be fatal.

What is HPV (human papillomavirus)?

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a large group of very common viruses. More than 100 HPV types have been identified. Some strains of HPV cause genital warts, while others can lead to anal and cervical cancers. These viruses do not always cause symptoms. Many people don’t know they have an HPV infection until a doctor discovers it on routine cervical cancer screening. 

HPV Transmission

HPV is transmitted through sex or skin-to-skin contact in the genital area. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). Vaccines are available for preventing HPV infection. Experts say that almost all sexually active persons get HPV infections in their lifetime unless they have received an HPV vaccine. And even then, the HPV vaccine only protects against specific strains of the virus. 

HPV Symptoms

As noted, a genital HPV infection can lead to the formation of warts. Genital warts are small, hard sores that can be hard to see. They look like tiny bits of cauliflower. Remember that not everyone with an HPV infection gets genital warts because their body can fight off the infection. You should also know that the virus spreads through skin-to-skin contact, for example, during oral sex. Therefore, besides the genital area, warts can also appear on the face, hands, feet, and legs.

Some people who contract HPV can develop cancer. The most common is cervical cancer. However, other HPV-related cancers include the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, or throat.

HPV Treatment

There is no cure for HPV. However, it is possible to eliminate warts with medications and surgery. If precancerous lesions are found in the cervix, they can be removed with freezing, laser, or surgery.

Does HPV turn into HIV?

HPV does not turn into HIV. They are different conditions caused by different viruses and are unrelated to each other. However, there are some similarities and links. For instance, both HPV and HIV are transmitted through sexual activity. Also, both viruses can remain dormant for years without causing any symptoms.

It is possible for a person to have both HPV and HIV. People living with HIV are more vulnerable to HPV infections and more likely to have severe symptoms. This is because HIV targets the immune system. Some studies have shown that HPV in women can increase the risk of HIV.

How can I prevent HPV and HIV?

Unprotected sex and multiple sex partners are risk factors for HIV and HPV. You can reduce your risk of contracting both HPV and HIV by taking preventive measures, such as using condoms during sexual activity, including anal sex. Remember, this is not a foolproof method because you can contract HPV from contact with the skin around the genitals of an infected person. 

Preventing HPV Infection

You can protect yourself against HPV by getting the HPV vaccination Gardasil 9. This is a series of two injections given to teenagers up to 15 years old. A slightly different version is available for adults up to 45 years old who were not vaccinated against HPV as teenagers.

Doctors can diagnose HPV through a Pap smear or cervical smear to detect abnormal cell changes in cervical cells. Experts recommend that adult women get a cervical smear done by a healthcare professional every 3 years. 

Preventing HIV Infection

High-risk individuals can reduce their risk of contracting HIV by taking a daily dose of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medicine. The use of condoms is also essential for prevention.

A healthcare professional can diagnose HIV with a blood test. Early diagnosis is key for a favorable outlook. Keep in mind a person may not test positive for several weeks after contracting HIV. This is because it takes time for the body to make antibodies against the virus in numbers that are enough to be detected by the test. Therefore, if someone suspects they may have contracted HIV, they should get re-tested even if initial tests are negative.

The Takeaway

HPV and HIV are both viral infections that spread through sexual contact and can lead to serious health problems. However, the viruses that cause these two infections are very different, including the physical symptoms and treatments. The two are rarely confused, but HPV vs. HIV was in the news more recently when Donald Trump asked Bill Gates the difference between them.



  1. https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/about-hiv-and-aids/what-are-hiv-and-aids
  2. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/human-papillomavirus-(hpv)-and-cervical-cancer
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/std/hpv/stdfact-hpv.htm
  4. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2010/04/96871/some-hpv-infection-may-be-linked-increased-risk-hiv-acquisition-women#