To prevent for a person being infected by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) – the microorganism that causes Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) – health workers are prescribing the first five letters of the alphabet: ABCDE.

Since sex is the most prevalent mode in the transmission of the virus, the first three letters premised on that fact: A stands for “abstinence,” meaning no sex at all; B for “be faithful,” in other words if you get engaged in sexual activities, be sure to remain faithful to your sexual partner; and C for “condom,” highlighting the use the latex rubber particularly to those who have multiple sexual partners.

D urges to those who are intra-drug users: “don’t share needles.” The last letter, E, stands for education on HIV/AIDS.

“HIV is highly preventable,” a health official from the Davao regional office of the Department of Health pointed out. “The government can only provide you information, diagnosis, and treatment. But the most effective way of preventing HIV still heavily depends on the practices of informed individuals.”

There are four critical conditions that must be fulfilled if HIV is to be transmitted by a particular route. First, HIV must be present in a body fluid (semen, vaginal fluids, blood or blood products). Second, HIV must survive during the period it is out of the body. Third, HIV must get into a person (skin forms a barrier to HIV so the virus must enter where the skin is damaged or more delicate, e.g. the mucus membrane of the anus and vagina). Lastly, sufficient HIV must be transferred into the person to make an infective dose.

“In the early stages of HIV infection, the body shows no symptoms,” informs the Remedios AIDS Foundation, Inc. (RAF). Among the non-specific signs and symptoms of HIV infection are: intermittent or persistent fever, fatigue, weakness, diarrhea, malaise, loss of weight, generalized swelling of lymph nodes (in neck, arm pits, or groin), skin infections (such as whitish patches in the mouth and tongue), sores (in the genital area, buttocks, or mouth).

“Not all signs and symptoms may occur to HIV positive individuals,” the RAF points out. “These are called opportunistic infections, since they happen when the immune system could no longer fight the disease.” Death is not caused directly by HIV, but by one or more infections.

As stated earlier, sex is the most prevalent mode of HIV transmission. As such, it is but wise to use condom when performing sexual acts. “Complete abstinence from sex is unrealistic and even reducing the number of sex partners does not guarantee avoidance of HIV,” wrote John Hubley, author of “The AIDS Handbook: A Guide to the Understanding of AIDS and HIV.” “Even if you adopt a message of one partner for life, your partner may not and thus you can still be at risk of catching HIV.”

Condoms – also known as rubbers, French letters, durex and even raincoats and gumboots – have been available for a long time and have been promoted both as a method for family planning and for prevention of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs). In recent years, condoms have been endorsed by health experts as a way to curtail HIV infection.

“Consistently used condoms provide significant protection against HIV, pregnancy and STIs,” said an information carried by the website, “The degree of protection they offer against HIV and STIs is significantly better than any other single prevention method, taken in isolation, other than sexual abstinence or complete mutual monogamy between two people who have tested negative for HIV.”

Hubley also wrote: “Laboratory studies have shown that HIV cannot pass through the thin membrane of the condom (even air and water do not pass through the condom and these molecules are much smaller than HIV).”

While condoms offer useful and vital protection, they have also become associated with promiscuity and infidelity.

During the 15th International AIDS Conference in Bangkok in 2004, the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni advocated for HIV prevention based on “optimal relationships based on love and trust.” He didn’t approved of “institutionalized mistrust, which is what the condom is all about.” He thought of condoms “as an improvisation, not a solution.”

(Museveni later complained of being misunderstood. In fact, he signed an article in “The Lancet” stating that condoms formed a valuable part of HIV prevention.)

Five years later, in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI reignited the controversy when he commented that AIDS in Africa “cannot be overcome…through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem.”

But when use improperly, condoms may even compound the problem. “Incorrect use of condoms can compromise their effectiveness, thereby increasing the risk of HIV transmission, even when they are used consistently,” wrote J. Wilton in an article published by CATIE, Canada’s source of information on HIV/AIDS. “There are many ways condoms can be used incorrectly and research shows incorrect condom use is common.”

Some types of incorrect use can cause condoms to break, slip or leak, thereby increasing the risk of HIV transmission. “This type of incorrect use includes using condoms that are too small or too large; using damaged or expired condoms; unrolling male condoms before putting them on; reusing condoms; not pinching the tip of the male condom when putting it on; using sharp objects to open condom packages; not using enough lubrication in combination with condoms; using oil-based lubrication with latex or polyisoprene condoms (oil-based lubrication is safe to use with nitrile and polyurethane condoms); or not holding the rim of the male condom when pulling out,” Wilton wrote.

Other types of incorrect condom use can increase the risk of HIV transmission even though the condom does not break, slip or leak. Wilton cited the following examples: “Some people may put a condom on late (after intercourse has started), remove the condom early (before ejaculation has occurred), or put the condom on inside out and then flip it over to use. These types of incorrect use can increase the risk of exposure to HIV.”

“It is bad enough that people are dying of AIDS,” Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor once said, “but no one should die of ignorance.”