The Independent Pharmacy

Genital Herpes vs Genital Warts

Scott McDougall
Scott McDougallMPharmDirector & Registered Manager

Reviewed on 20 Sep 2022

Here at The Independent Pharmacy, we offer treatment at competitive prices with fast, secure, and discreet online delivery straight to your door. Herpes and genital warts can be embarrassing to discuss in person, but you must seek treatment if you do begin to notice the key symptoms mentioned below.

Read on to learn more about the differences between genital warts and herpes, how you can protect yourself against them, and what to do if you think you may have contracted one of these viral STIs. Don’t suffer in silence — order your treatment from The Independent Pharmacy today.

What are genital warts?

Genital warts (condylomata acuminata) are among the most prevalent sexually-transmitted afflictions. Genital warts are caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and appear as flesh-colored papules on the genitalia (raised spots or bumps usually smaller than 1cm).

HPV is highly transmissible through oral, genital, and anal sex, but can be contracted through any skin-to-skin contact of the genital area or the shared use of sex toys. There’s no cure for HPV, but infection is often asymptomatic. Most people will contract HPV at some point in their lives.

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What is herpes?

Genital herpes is typified by small blisters on the genitals and nearby areas. Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV). The virus can impact any mucous membrane on the body; this includes the moist lining of the mouth, where herpes presents as cold sores. Herpes is caused by two different viruses which are transmitted in different ways. Genital herpes is caused both by type 1 and type 2 HSV:

  • Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV1) usually affects the mouth and is commonly referred to as a cold sore. Transmission occurs via physical contact with the sores or saliva of an infected person. Infection can also happen during oral-genital contact — this may then lead to genital herpes. Oral herpes is usually asymptomatic, but when symptoms do flare up, you’ll experience open, itchy sores around your mouth, occasionally accompanied by a tingling sensation. These symptoms can recur periodically, and the frequency varies from person to person.
  • Herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV2) is a sexually-transmitted infection that causes genital herpes. Like HSV1, genital herpes can be asymptomatic and lay dormant while still being infectious. Symptoms include blisters around the genitals or anus, but HSV2 can be transmitted even if the skin appears normal (though the greatest risk of infection is when the symptoms are visible). If you have recently contracted genital herpes, you may also experience a fever, body aches and swollen lymph nodes. If your genital herpes were caused by HSV1, your symptoms are unlikely to recur. However, recurrent symptoms are common with HSV2 infection.

It’s important to understand that genital herpes can be caused by either strain of the virus, and so if you’re experiencing symptoms of oral herpes, it’s best to abstain from oral sex until your symptoms fade.

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Which is worse — HPV or herpes?

HPV and herpes may share similar qualities, but it’s important to understand the differences stated above. On the whole, herpes can cause more irritation and discomfort, but the virus (HPV) responsible for genital warts can sometimes lead to more serious long-term health effects (though this is rare).

Currently, there is no cure for herpes or HPV, but you can take steps to prevent the symptoms and transmission of both, and there are various effective ways to treat the symptoms as they occur.

How to prevent herpes

The best way to prevent an infection of herpes is to:

  • Avoid kissing anyone with a cold sore.
  • Avoid performing oral sex on anyone with blisters around their genital area.
  • Always use a condom during sex.
  • Wash your hands regularly (especially after using a public toilet).
  • Always practice good hygiene.

How to prevent HPV (genital warts)

To prevent HPV infection:

  • Get vaccinated — the HPV vaccine is readily available through the NHS. As a bonus, this vaccine will also protect against certain types of cancer caused by the Human Papillomavirus.
  • Practice safe sex and always use condoms, especially with new partners. For women engaging in sex with other women, wear a soft polyurethane or latex square (dental dam) to protect your vulva when rubbing your vulva against your partner's vulva. Avoid sharing sex toys.
  • Avoid sexual contact with anyone who you believe to be infected with HPV — this is the only surefire way to prevent infection.
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Comparing genital warts and genital herpes — a quick guide

Since it’s so common for the two conditions to be confused with one another, here’s a quick guide to help you differentiate between genital warts and herpes.

Genital warts

Genital herpes


Caused through skin-to-skin contact with someone infected with the human Papillomavirus (HPV).

Caused by skin-to-skin contact with someone infected by the herpes simplex virus (either HSV-1 or HSV-2).


Small (1cm or less) skin-tone coloured warts.

Alternatively, HPV can be asymptomatic.

Blisters or ulcers around the genitals and anus. These genital lesions can be painful and may burst or leave red sores if agitated.

Alternatively, herpes can be asymptomatic.


It’s recommended to visit your local sexual health clinic if you suspect you may have genital warts.

Similar to genital warts, herpes can be diagnosed via a GP either in-person or in an online consultation, but symptoms are simple to identify.


The warts are usually treated with topical preparations such as Aldara Cream (imiquimod) and Warticon (podophyllotoxin). Both of these treatments are available from The Independent Pharmacy.

If topical treatments are ineffective, you may also try cryotherapy, excision, laser surgery, or electrosurgery.

If you are suffering from a primary infection of genital herpes then it is likely you will be prescribed an antiviral medication (e.g. Aciclovir 400mg tablets or Valtrex 500mg tablets).

This will prevent the herpes virus from multiplying and help it clear up. Unfortunately, no herpes treatment can completely eradicate the virus.

Lidocaine 5% ointment can be used to relieve any pain and irritation caused during the outbreak. All of these treatments are available through The Independent Pharmacy.

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