Genital Warts Vs. Herpes: The Complete Guide

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Madhuri Agarwal, MBBS, MD
Written by Eshna Das, Certified Skin Care Coach

The debate on genital warts vs. herpes is quite old and common. It is because both are tough to tell apart. As per the World Health Organization, over a million cases of sexually transmitted infections occur every day. This includes both genital warts and herpes. They have similar symptoms, which is why most people confuse between the two. This article attempts to settle the debate and distinguish genital warts from herpes. Read on.

What Are Genital Warts?

Genital warts (Condylomata acuminata) are one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). The warts appear like flesh-colored papules on the genitals. HPV is a highly contagious virus transmitted through genital, oral, and anal sexual contact (2). Herpes is quite different from genital warts. Let’s find out.

What Is Herpes?

Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The two types of viruses – HSV1 and HSV-2 may affect any body part, including genitals, and cause pimple-like bumps, blisters, vesicles, and papules.

The Centre for Disease Control estimates that approximately over five lakh people are diagnosed with herpes every year in the United States. Out of this, 11.9% of the people are between 14 and 49 years (3), (4).

The symptoms of herpes and genital warts may differ in numerous aspects. Let’s take a look at them.

Genital Warts Vs. Herpes: Symptoms

Genital WartsHerpes
Small flesh-colored bumps in the genital areaRed blisters and bumps around the genitals
Itching in the genital areaPain, tenderness, and itching in the genital area
Bleeding from the genital during intercourseBlisters may rupture and bleed and cause pain during urination.
Warts may multiply into clustersThe skin might crust and form scabs

The symptoms of genital warts and herpes seem to be similar. However, you can distinguish them by their appearance. Herpes and genital warts spread through skin-to-skin contact. Let’s learn in detail.

How Do You Get Herpes And Genital Warts?

You can contract genital warts through:

  • Unprotected vaginal and anal intercourse and oral sex
  • Sharing sex toys with an infected person

In rare cases, it may be passed down from the mother to her child (known as vertical transmission during delivery).

Herpes is transmitted through (2), (4):

  • Body fluids like saliva (through oral sex or kissing)
  • Unprotected sexual intercourse
  • Touching active sores

It can be passed on from the mother to her newborn child (neonatal herpes).

Avoid sexual intercourse with a partner who may have either genital warts or herpes. It’s better to get tested to avoid spreading the infection. Both STIs are non-curable. However, an early diagnosis can help control the symptoms. Check out the treatment options in the next section.

Genital Warts Vs. Herpes: Treatment Options

Since both are non-curable, doctors usually resort to either prevention or managing the symptoms.

For managing herpes, doctors may prescribe:

  • Antiviral medications and creams like acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir

For managing genital warts, doctors may prescribe

  • Podophyllotoxin gel or cream to clear warts. Clinical trials found 0.5% podofilox to be quite effective in wart removal (5).
  • Cryotherapy also helps remove genital warts (6). This procedure uses liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy warts.

However, remember that the treatment methods can treat the symptoms but not eliminate or cure the virus.

Both genital warts and herpes are sexually transmitted diseases that can be contracted through bodily fluids, shared needles, or unprotected sexual intercourse. While the symptoms may seem similar, genital warts are flesh-colored bumps that appear on the genitals, while herpes results in painful and itchy red blisters around the genitals. Since both diseases are incurable, early diagnosis can help doctors prevent or manage the symptoms through prescribed medications and surgical procedures. We hope this article clarifies the confusion surrounding genital warts vs. herpes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do genital warts mean you have an STD?

Yes. Genital warts are caused by Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection.

Are warts and cold sores related?

No. Cold sores are fluid-filled, painful blisters on the lips caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), while warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Key Takeaways

  • Genital warts and herpes are sexually transmitted diseases that are difficult to distinguish one from the other.
  • Genital warts are caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), while herpes is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV).
  • Genital warts and herpes share genital lesions as one of their common characteristics.
  • A timely diagnosis can help control the symptoms with medications and other procedures, but neither is curable.


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  1. Sexually Transmitted Infections
  2. Genital Warts
  3. Genital Herpes
  4. Herpes Simplex Virus
  5. ’A Double-blind\’ Randomized Trial of 0.5% Podofilox and Placebo for the Treatment of Genital Warts in Women
  6. Cryotherapy of Genital Warts
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Dr. Madhuri Agarwal

Dr. Madhuri Agarwal is an aesthetic dermatologist with over 16 years of experience and the Medical Director & CEO of... more