June 25, 2018
Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently talked about two separate meetings he’d had with President Donald Trump during which the president asked Mr. Gates what the difference was between HPV and HIV. This is something that someone like President Trump—a 72-year-old man (who also happens to be a husband and parent)—should know. In fact, this is something we all should know.
HPV and HIV are both STDs. Both have H in their names, and both have V in their names because they’re both viruses. But that’s where the similarities end.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a super common STD. It can be passed from skin-to-skin contact or oral, vaginal or anal sex with someone who has the virus. A person might not even know they have HPV; most HPV infections clear up on their own with no adverse effects. However, in some cases, HPV can cause warts around the mouth, anus and genitals. And some strains can lead to cervical cancer in women and penile and anal cancer in men. There is a vaccine available, and while condoms and dental dams do not completely prevent HPV, they can lower chances of infection.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is less common than HPV. It can be transmitted when a mucous membrane (like the mouth, vagina or rectum) comes into contact with fluids (such as semen, vaginal fluids or blood) from someone with the virus. HIV weakens the immune system, and there is no vaccine or cure. But there are medications that reduce the amount of the virus in a person’s bodily fluids, which helps them live a longer, healthier life and reduces the chances of the virus being passed on to a partner. Without treatment, HIV can weaken the immune system and lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Condoms are very effective at preventing the sexual transmission of HIV when used correctly.
People who are engaging in sexual behaviors should get tested regularly for STDs. Girls do not need to get Pap tests, which screen for abnormal cervical cells caused by HPV, until they are 21.
You’re hopefully a lot more informed about the difference between HPV and HIV. Ideally, this is information we would all be learning in comprehensive sex education classes. But the irony is that President Trump, who isn’t clear about the difference between HPV and HIV, is heading up an administration that is threatening to cut funding for sex education. Let’s keep speaking up for better sex education, so no one ever has to wonder what the difference is between HPV and HIV.