HPV and HIV are both viruses that cause sexually transmitted infections. The viruses cause different conditions, though people with HIV are more susceptible to HPV than others.

People with untreated HIV are more likely to have active HPV infections and may experience worse symptoms of HPV. HPV prevention is especially important for people with HIV.

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These infections have different symptoms, outlook, and treatment. Continue reading to find out more about the differences and links between HPV and HIV.

What is HPV?

Men's legs in bed
The transmission of HPV and HIV often occurs during sexual intercourse.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). The CDC estimate that almost every sexually active person will get HPV in their lifetime unless they have had the HPV vaccine.

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There are many different types of HPV. The virus may not always cause symptoms, but some types can cause genital warts and certain cancers. Most people will not know they have HPV until a doctor detects it during routine screening, such as in a Pap smear, or they develop symptoms of an infection.

What is HIV?

HIV is a virus that targets a person’s immune system. It specifically targets white blood cells called CD4 cells. HIV is most frequently transmitted through sexual intercourse or using the same needles as a person with HIV.

There are many effective treatments for HIV that can halt its progression and prevent its transmission to others. If left untreated, HIV will advance to stage 3 HIV, also known as AIDS, which can be fatal.

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What is the link between HPV and HIV?

HPV and HIV are different viruses. They are not related and have few similarities.

People can contract both HPV and HIV from sexual activity, so they are both considered STIs. Both viruses can lay dormant in the body for years without causing symptoms.

A person can have both HPV and HIV. Both viruses can make a person more susceptible to other diseases or complications

HPV can cause genital warts on the penis, vagina, and rectum. People living with HIV can have more severe sores in the rectum and area around the cervix. People with HIV are also more likely to have abnormal cells in the anus or vagina, which can develop into certain cancers.

Symptoms of HIV and HPV

Woman with a headache and cold caused by HIV
Early symptoms of HIV can include fatigue and fever.

Many people with HPV will not develop symptoms because their body fights off the infection. However, the virus often remains dormant in a person’s body.

For some, HPV’s symptoms will present as genital warts. While genital warts typically appear on or around the genital area, they may also appear on the hands, feet, face, and legs.

Some people who contract HPV may develop cancer as a result. The most common cancer is cervical cancer. However, a person may develop cancers of the vagina, penis, anus, vulva, mouth, or throat as a result of HPV.

Many people who have HIV are not aware that they have it until they get a routine STI test.

An estimated 40 to 90 percent of people with HIV will experience flu-like symptoms around 2 to 4 weeks after contracting the virus. Early symptoms include:

These symptoms of HIV can last a few days or a few weeks. During this time, the risk of sexually transmitting HIV is high, and HIV tests may not yet be able to detect the virus.

Risk factors

Sexually active teens and adults having oral, vaginal, or anal sex are at risk of contracting either HPV or HIV. HPV is very easy to contract because the virus lives on the surface of a person’s skin. This means that someone can contract the virus through skin-to-skin contact with a person’s feet, hands, penis, mouth, vagina, or another mucus cavity.

People who share needles with others are at higher risk of contracting or transmitting HIV. In the 1980s, blood transfusions were also a risk factor for contracting HIV. Today, however, thanks to improved screening methods, blood transfusions pose virtually no risk.

Prevention

People can reduce the risk of contracting both HPV and HIV by taking preventive measures.

People can reduce their risk of contracting STIs, including HPV and HIV, through using barrier contraceptive methods during sexual activity.

Condoms are very effective in reducing the risk of HIV transmission. However, people can contract HPV from the skin around a person’s genitals, so condoms do not offer complete protection from HPV.

Typically, healthcare professionals give the HPV vaccination in two injections to people up to 15 years old. However, adults up to 45 years old who did not get vaccinated as teenagers can now get a slightly different version. The U.S. Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) have recently extended the use of an existing vaccination to include people in this age group.

To reduce the risk of contracting HIV, a person can take a daily dose of pre-exposure prophylactic (PrEP). Doctors recommend this measure for people at high risk of contracting HIV.

According to HIV.gov, which is a U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website, taking PrEP can significantly reduce a person’s risk of developing HIV. It can reduce the risk of contracting HIV through sexual activity by 90 percent, and by 70 percent for people who use injected drugs.

Diagnosis

Doctor speaking with his patient
Early diagnosis of HIV is essential for a good outlook.

Doctors can detect both HPV and HIV using certain screening tests. Diagnosis can be difficult as these viruses do not always express physical symptoms.

To help diagnose an STI, a doctor will ask a person about their symptoms, sexual history, and risk factors.

A doctor may not be able to diagnose HPV until symptoms develop. Doctors can diagnose genital warts with a visual exam, and may detect HPV cervical infection through a Pap smear, also called a cervical smear. Doctors can check cervical cells for HPV.

Doctors recommend that women aged 21 to 65 have a cervical smear every 3 years. However, women aged 30 to 65 who require an HPV and a Pap smear should get tested every 5 years.

A person with HIV may not test positive for several weeks after contracting the virus. This is because it takes time for the body to generate antibodies against the virus in high enough numbers to be detectable on most tests. A doctor usually orders a blood test to diagnose HIV.

Early diagnosis of HIV is imperative for a good outlook. Even if initial tests come back negative, a person who suspects they may have contracted HIV should get retested.

Treatments

There is no treatment for HPV. Many people will find that their immune system will fight off the virus successfully. For those that do not, a doctor will treat genital warts or cancer based on individual circumstances.

Healthcare providers can treat HIV with a regimen of medications called antiretrovirals. A person living with HIV will take a combination of drugs to:

  • reduce the total number of HIV cells, known as the viral load
  • increase the number of CD4 immune system cells
  • stop HIV from progressing
  • prevent HIV from transmitting to others

A person who receives successful treatment will see their HIV cell counts drop to undetectable levels. This means the person’s HIV is not progressing and they are no longer able to transmit HIV sexually.

Antiretrovirals do not cure HIV, and some HIV remains in the tissues. For this reason, a person needs to continue taking HIV medication for life to prevent transmission and HIV progression.

Outlook

A person’s immune system can often fight off HPV with no negative symptoms. Others may experience outbreaks of genital warts, which a doctor can treat when they arise. The outlook for a person with HPV-related cancer varies depending on a person’s risk factors and the stage of the cancer.

There is no cure for HIV. However, due to modern treatment, people with HIV can have a normal quality of life. A person will need to take medicine each day and get regular check-ups to make sure the medication is still working, however.

Summary

HPV and HIV are two viruses that people can contract through sexual contact. The symptoms, causes, and treatments for the two viruses are different. Both can lead to other health complications

A person with HIV may experience worse symptoms and complications from HPV than a person without HIV. This is due to the effect that HIV has on the immune system.

A vaccination is available to prevent HPV, and it is possible to reduce the risk of contracting HIV with PrEP medication. HPV may present no symptoms, and a person’s immune system may fight off the infection. However, HIV has no cure, and anyone who has the virus will require regular check-ups and treatment.