Genital herpes and HPV: The facts

Genital herpes and genital warts are both frequently seen in primary care. They are often difficult consultations as many patients have trouble dealing with the associated stigma. Here are some key points to help aid information giving and to alleviate patient anxiety.

Genital herpes:

  • Herpes is very common and may be caused by either herpes simplex type 1 or type 2 (HSV-1/HSV-2). Some patients have both types.
  • HSV-1 causes "cold sores", and up to 80% of the population has this virus. However, HSV-1 may also be transmitted to the genitals through oral/genital sex and it accounts for about 40% of genital herpes.
  • HSV-2 remains the most common cause of recurrent genital herpes. 89% of individuals experience recurrences in the first year after acquisition. HSV-1 is less likely to cause recurrent outbreaks.
  • 80% of those with genital herpes do not know they have it, as they may have very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
  • HSV is not spread through sharing communal facilities or towels.
  • Once you have herpes at one site, it is rare to then get the same type at another site due to the production of antibodies.

Genital HPV:

  • There are around 40 types of the human papilloma virus that affect the genital area
  • Genital warts are most often caused by HPV types 6 and 11.
  • HPV infection is very common – 80% of sexually active people will be infected with HPV in their lifetime.
  • Up to 90% of all HPV infections are cleared within the first 36 months. It could almost be considered a normal part of being sexually active.
  • A decline in the incidence of genital warts has been observed since the national HPV vaccination programme commenced.

Some patients will benefit from receiving counselling following a diagnosis of genital herpes or HPV. A referral can be made to your local sexual health clinic for this.

‘Want to know more? Register for the ‘The tale of two viruses - Herpes and HPV’ CPD (4 Cat 2 QI&CPD points), Thursday 15 June at CESPHN. Email to register or click here to register online.