The human papillomavirus (HPV) and HIV are viruses that primarily spread through sexual contact. Although they have different symptoms, having HIV may make someone more susceptible to potential health conditions, such as precancer and cancer, after contracting HPV.

People living with untreated HIV are more likely to have active HPV infections and may be at greater risk for developing cervical cancer. HPV prevention is vital for individuals living with HIV.

Some research also suggests that those living with HPV are more likely to acquire HIV, although the mechanism behind that is unclear. Those living with HPV should also learn how to prevent HIV.

These two viruses share a connection, but their symptoms, outlook, and treatment are not always the same. Read on to learn more about the differences and links between HPV and HIV.

A person's foot with green colored nail polish touching another person's foot.Share on Pinterest
Carolyn Lagattuta/Stocksy

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI). It can spread via penetrative sex but also by nonpenetrative physical contact. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that nearly everyone will eventually get HPV, though the HPV vaccine protects against some types. HPV 16 and 18 are the most high risk types, and all HPV vaccines cover at least these two.

There are more than 150 strains of HPV. It may not always produce symptoms, but some types cause genital warts and cancer. Most people will not know they have HPV until a healthcare professional detects it during a screening or someone develops symptoms of an infection.

Researchers who have studied the United States’ current HPV vaccine, Gardasil 9, say it is safe and effective. It cannot eliminate all types of HPV, nor every potential symptom. But it has dramatically reduced the incidence of genital warts and six different cancers, including anal and cervical cancer, since its introduction.

The CDC recommends administering the HPV vaccine in two doses to individuals ages 11-12 years and three if they start ages 15-26. In some cases, healthcare professionals will approve using the vaccines for individuals ages 27-45.

HIV is a virus that attaches to the cluster of differentiation 4 (CD4) white blood cells protecting a person’s immune system. Once those cells contract the infection, it keeps replicating and destroying the body’s immunity, eventually moving it toward the final stage: AIDS. The body then becomes too weak to fend off infection.

HIV primarily transmits through sexual intercourse or by sharing drug injection equipment. Treatments for HIV aim to preserve a person’s CD4 cells and reduce their viral load to an undetectable state. People receiving ongoing treatment may look forward to years of good health.

HPV and HIV are different viruses. They share no relation and have few similarities.

People can contract HPV and HIV from sexual activity, so doctors consider them both STIs. Both viruses may lay dormant in the body for years without causing symptoms.

People living with HPV and HIV are more susceptible to other diseases or complications. They can also have both viruses in their body at the same time. Recent research suggests that HPV may put people at increased risk of contracting HIV. Additionally, one review of existing studies indicated that this may be the result of increased genital inflammation or cellular changes. Living with HIV may also increase the risk of developing HPV, especially if someone’s CD4 count and immunity are low.

These two STIs share similar symptoms, though they are not identical. HPV can cause genital warts on the cervix, penis, vagina, and rectum. Some types of HPV also trigger cellular changes that turn into anal, cervical, oral, penile, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. People living with HIV may have severe sores in the rectum and the area around the cervix. They are more at risk for developing anal and penile cancers, especially those that result from HPV.

Males and females often benefit from differing vitamin and mineral types, quantities, and combinations. With this in mind, some pharmaceutical companies develop specific formulas of supplements, vitamins, shakes, and health bars to benefit either male or female biology. A person should discuss their options with a doctor or healthcare professional who can help them decide, and choose the product they feel works best for them and their needs.

It can be hard to tell if someone has HPV or HIV because the symptoms are not always immediately obvious.

With HPV, a person may never develop symptoms, and their body may clear the infection. Those who show symptoms may have warts in the genitals, hands, feet, face, or legs.

Many people who have HIV are not aware that they have it until they get a routine STI test. However, some individuals will experience flu-like symptoms around 2–4 weeks after contracting the virus.

Early HIV symptoms include:

  • swollen lymph nodes
  • fever
  • fatigue
  • muscle aches
  • rash
  • chills
  • a sore throat
  • mouth ulcers
  • night sweats

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

People who have oral, vaginal, or anal sex are at risk of contracting HPV and HIV. HPV is easy to contract since the virus lives on a person’s skin surface. This means people can acquire the virus through skin-to-skin contact with someone’s penis, mouth, vagina, or other mucous membranes. Different types of HPV cause warts on the hands and feet, and people can pick up the latter by walking barefoot over any surface that has the virus.

Sharing drug injection equipment, such as needles, syringes, or cookers, increases a person’s risk of contracting HIV.

People can reduce the spread of HPV and HIV by:

  • Using barrier contraceptive methods: Condoms reduce HIV transmission by 85%, although they cannot fully protect against HPV, which a person can contract from the skin around the genitals.
  • Getting vaccinated People aged 9 to 45 can receive vaccination against HPV. The CDC says that doing so could prevent 90% of HPV-related cancers from developing.
  • Taking preexposure prophylactic (PrEP): Using a daily PrEP can reduce the risk of contracting HIV through sexual activity by around 99%. Additionally, those sharing drug-injecting equipment can reduce their risk by at least 74% with this method.
  • Scheduling screenings: These viruses may not show symptoms, so screening is critical.

For HPV

People with vaginas between the ages of 21 and 65 should get a Pap smear every 3 years to check for cervical changes. Those over 30 years of age can do it every 5 years when they have an HPV test. Healthcare professionals can detect HPV-related genital warts during an exam.

For HIV

Everyone ages 13-64 should get a blood test for HIV at least once, with those at high risk needing testing at least once a year. It takes around 10-90 days for HIV to show up after exposure because it takes the body that long to generate detectable antibodies.

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

There is no treatment for HPV. Many people find that their immune system fends off the virus. Others work with healthcare professionals to treat resulting genital warts or cancer.

HIV is treatable with a combination of antiretroviral drugs, which:

  • reduce the amount of the virus in the blood, known as the viral load
  • increase CD4 white blood cells, strengthening the immune system
  • stop HIV from progressing
  • prevent HIV from spreading to others

A person’s viral load can drop to an undetectable level with proper treatment. This means that HIV is not progressing, and people can no longer transmit the virus 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 progression.

The immune system often vanquishes HPV on its own. Some people experience genital warts, which a healthcare professional can treat as they arise. The outlook for an individual with HPV-related cancer depends on their personal risk factors and cancer stage.

There is no definitive cure for HIV. However, due to modern treatments, people living with HIV can enjoy many years of good health. They still need to take medication daily and get regular check-ups to monitor their condition.

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

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

Vaccines can prevent HPV, while PrEP medication can reduce an individual’s risk of contracting HIV.

HPV may present no symptoms, and a person’s immune system may fight off the infection. HIV may also present no symptoms, or produce flu-like symptoms, so anyone living with HIV should arrange regular check-ups and treatment.