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HPV and HIV: What Are the Differences?

HPV and HIV

Highlights

  1. The behaviors that put you at risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease like HIV can also put you at risk for HPV.
  2. Many people are able to fight off HPV infections without treatment.
  3. People with HIV are often unaware they have the virus.

Although HPV and HIV are both sexually transmitted, there’s no medical link. However, the behaviors that put you at risk of contracting HIV can put you at risk for HPV.

What is HPV?

Over 150 related viruses are collectively referred to as human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). It can cause other health conditions, including genital warts and cervical cancer.

About 79 million people in the United States have HPV. It’s so widespread that most sexually active people will contract at least one type of HPV during their lives.

What is HIV?

STD or STI: What’s the difference?
For years, STD, which stands for sexually transmitted disease, was the term used by doctors. Some people now favor the term STI, or sexually transmitted infection. An infection can lead to disease, but not all infections progress to this stage. The medical community hasn’t reached a clear-cut consensus over which is the correct term to use, so both terms are commonly used to mean the same thing.

HIV is transmitted sexually. The virus attacks and destroys CD4-positive T cells. These are white blood cells that defend your body by searching for and fighting off infection. Without healthy T cells, your body has little defense against opportunistic infections.

If you don’t get treatment for it, HIV can lead to AIDS.

In the United States, more than 1.2 million people are infected with HIV. Approximately 12 percent, or 156,300 people, are unaware of their infection.

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Symptoms

What are the symptoms of HPV and HIV?

HPV Symptoms

Often, those with healthy immune systems are able to fight off HPV infections on their own without experiencing any noticeable health issues.

When the body isn’t able to fight off HPV, symptoms can present as genital warts. You can also develop warts in other parts of your body, including the:

  • hands
  • feet
  • legs
  • face

HPV primarily increases your risk of cervical cancer, but it increases your risk for other cancers, too. This includes cancers of the:

  • vulva
  • vagina
  • penis
  • anus
  • throat

Cancers from HPV may take years to develop. Because of this, it’s important to get regular checkups. Women should get regularly screened for cervical cancer.

HIV Symptoms

People with HIV are often unaware that they have the virus. It generally doesn’t cause any physical symptoms. In some cases, you may experience symptoms of illness anywhere from one to six weeks after becoming infected.

This includes:

  • a fever
  • a rash
  • enlarged lymph nodes
  • joint pain

Risk factors

What are the risk factors for HPV and HIV?

You can contract either virus when you come into direct contact with someone who has it. The viruses can enter your body through any orifice or break in your skin.

You can become infected with HPV by having unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex. HIV can be transmitted in a variety of ways, including through blood, breast milk, or sexual fluids. Penetration during sex isn’t required to contract HIV. Exposure to the pre-seminal or vaginal fluids of an infected person may be all that’s required. Vaginal, oral, and anal sex increase your risk of getting HIV.

Sharing needles when injecting drugs is another method of transmission.

Having had an STI increases your risk for HIV, and people with HIV are more likely to have HPV.

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Diagnosis

How are HPV and HIV Diagnosed?

Diagnosing HPV

In some people, the development of genital warts may be the first indication of an HPV infection. Others may learn they have an HPV once they develop more serious conditions, such as cancer.

Your doctor can usually diagnose HPV just by visual inspection of your warts. If warts are difficult to see, a test using a vinegar solution turns them white so the warts can be identified.

A Pap test can determine if cells from your cervix are abnormal. Certain varieties of HPV can also be identified using a DNA test on cervical cells.

Diagnosing HIV

It can take up to 12 weeks for your body to develop antibodies to the virus. HIV is usually diagnosed using blood or saliva tests, but these tests can have a false negatives if you take them too soon. This means that the test result comes back as negative even though you have the viral infection. A newer test checks for a specific protein that will be present soon after you’ve been infected. 

You can also use a home test that requires only a swab of your gums. If you get a negative result, you should recheck in three months. If it’s positive, see your doctor to confirm the diagnosis.

The sooner you have a diagnosis and start treatment, the better. CD4 count, viral load, and drug resistance tests can help figure out what stage of disease you have and how to best approach treatment.

Treatments

How are HPV and HIV treated?

Treatment options for HPV

No specific treatments for HPV are available, but it often clears up on its own. Treatments for genital warts, cancer, and other conditions that occur due to HPV are available.

Treatment options for HIV

The HIV infection has three stages:

  • People often describe the symptoms of acute HIV infection as having "the worst flu ever.” This stage often presents with typical flu-like symptoms.
  • In clinical latency, the virus is living in a person and causes few or no symptoms.
  • In AIDS, the body's immune system is badly damaged and vulnerable to opportunistic infections

If you’re newly diagnosed, your focus should be on finding and taking the medicine that best works for you. These medicines fall into these five categories:

  • reverse transcriptase inhibitors
  • protease inhibitors
  • fusion inhibitors
  • integrase inhibitors
  • combinations of two or more other drugs

Although each type of drug fights HIV in a slightly different way, they work either to stop the virus from infecting cells or to stop it from making copies of itself.

If you take the proper medication, it’s possible that HIV may never progress to AIDS.

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Outlook

What is the outlook?

Most of the time, HPV causes no long-term health problems. Your overall outlook depends on any conditions that result from HPV.

No cure is available for HIV. This is a lifelong condition that requires treatment. When HIV was first discovered in the 1980s, it was rare for people with the virus to live more than a few years. Now, effective medicines that can dramatically extend your lifespan are available.

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Prevention

Is there any way to prevent HPV and HIV?

A vaccine for HPV is available for men and women. It involves getting three injections over a six-month period and people should get it at ages 11 or 12. There's a catch-up vaccine available for people up to age 26 who’ve never been vaccinated.

Despite ongoing research, no vaccines for HIV are available. You can lower your risk by doing the following:

  • Use a condom when having vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
  • Don’t have sex with people you don't know or whose sexual history you don’t know about.
  • Don’t have sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol because they can lower inhibitions and make you more vulnerable to taking sexual risks.

Talk to your doctor to learn more about screening and preventive care.

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