Although human papillomavirus (HPV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are both infections that can be transmitted sexually, there’s no medical link between the two conditions.
Over 150 related viruses are collectively referred to as HPV. It’s the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). It can cause 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 lifetimes.
HIV is transmitted sexually as well. This virus attacks and destroys CD4-positive T cells, which are white blood cells (WBCs) that defend the body by searching for and fighting off infection.
Without healthy T cells, the body has little defense against opportunistic infections. If it’s left untreated, HIV can lead to stage 3 HIV, commonly referred to as AIDS.
In the United States, it’s estimated that more than 1.1 million people have HIV. Approximately 15 percent, or 162,500 people, are unaware of their infection.
STD OR STI: WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
For years, STD — which stands for sexually transmitted disease — was the term used by most doctors.
However, 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.
Many people with HPV and HIV don’t experience any major 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. Warts can also develop on other parts of the body, including the:
High-risk strains of HPV primarily increase the risk of cervical cancer, but they can increase the risk for other cancers, too. This includes cancers of the:
Cancers from HPV may take years to develop. Because of this, it’s important to get regular checkups. If you have a cervix, should get screened regularly for cervical cancer.
People with HIV are often unaware that they have the virus. It generally doesn’t cause any physical symptoms.
In some cases, symptoms may be experienced anywhere from one to six weeks after transmission.
These symptoms can include:
Either virus can be contracted when someone comes into direct contact with someone else who has it. The viruses can enter the body through any orifice or break in the skin.
Risk factors for HPV
HPV infection can occur by having unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex, or other skin-to-skin contact.
This is because HPV infects the surface cells on the skin, such as the hands or feet, and the oral and genital mucus membranes. Any contact of those areas with a person who has HPV could transmit the virus.
Risk factors for HIV
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 HIV-positive person may be all that’s required. Vaginal, oral, and anal sex increase the risk of getting HIV.
Sharing needles when injecting drugs is another method of transmission.
Having had an STI in the past also increases the risk for HIV, and people with HIV are more likely to have HPV.
Doctors can diagnose HPV by simply looking at the warts, if they’re present. HIV, however, requires blood or saliva tests.
In some people, the development of genital warts may be the first indication of an HPV infection. Others may learn they have HPV once they develop more serious complications, such as cancer.
A doctor can usually diagnose HPV just by visual inspection of the 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 the cervix are abnormal. Certain varieties of HPV can also be identified using a DNA test on cervical cells.
It can take up to 12 weeks for your body to develop antibodies to HIV.
HIV is usually diagnosed using blood or saliva tests, but these tests can result in false negatives if they’re taken too soon. This means that the test result comes back as negative even though the infection is present.
A newer test checks for a specific protein that will be present soon after the infection is contracted.
There’s also a home test that requires only a swab of the gums. If a negative result occurs, it’s recommended to wait and recheck again in three months. If it’s positive, it’s important to confirm the diagnosis with a healthcare professional.
The sooner that a diagnosis occurs, the sooner that treatment can begin. CD4 count, viral load, and drug resistance tests can help figure out what stage the disease is in and how to best approach treatment.
HPV doesn’t always require treatment. However, proper medication is needed to prevent HIV from progressing.
Treatment options for HPV
No specific treatments for HPV are available to cure the virus, but it often clears up on its own.
Treatments for genital warts, cancer, and other conditions that occur due to HPV are available. Learn more about these treatment options.
Treatment options for HIV
The HIV infection has three stages:
- acute HIV infection
- clinical latency
- stage 3 HIV
Acute HIV infection is often described as having “the worst flu ever.” This stage presents with typical flu-like symptoms.
In clinical latency, the virus is living in a person and causes few or no symptoms.
In stage 3 HIV, the body’s immune system is badly damaged and vulnerable to opportunistic infections.
Anyone who’s newly diagnosed should focus on finding and taking medications that work best for them. The most commonly prescribed medicines fall into these four categories:
- reverse transcriptase inhibitors (RTIs)
- protease inhibitors
- entry or fusion inhibitors
- integrase inhibitors
Combination therapy, with multiple drug types, is commonly used.
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.
With the proper medication and management, it’s possible that HIV may never progress to a later stage.
No cure exists for either HIV or HPV at this time.
Most of the time, however, HPV causes no long-term health problems. The overall outlook depends on any conditions that result from HPV and screening frequency.
With current treatments, HIV can be managed and viral loads made undetectable. Effective medications and treatment now dramatically extend life expectancy.
A vaccine for HPV is available for people of all anatomies.
People should get the HPV vaccine at age 11 or 12. People who receive the vaccine
There’s also a catch-up vaccine available for people up to age 45 who’ve never been vaccinated. It involves getting three injections over a six-month period.
Despite ongoing research, no vaccines for HIV are available. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), in the form of a daily oral medication, is recommended for people with known risk factors for HIV.
To lower the risk of contracting HIV, it’s important to avoid sharing needles and practice safe sex. Safe sex methods to lower risk include:
- using a condom when having vaginal, oral, or anal sex
- getting tested for HIV and other STIs
Talk to a doctor to learn more about screening and preventive care.