Today is National HIV testing day, so it’s only fitting that the CDC announced on Thursday that it was recommending a new HIV testing approach that can diagnose HIV three to four weeks earlier than the previous recommended testing procedure.

Currently, most tests can only detect HIV about one or two months after the initial infection, because detectable levels of antibodies take time to build in the body. But with this new, more sensitive procedure, individuals who test positive for HIV will finally become aware of their status at a time when they are most likely to pass it on. "Today, CDC is recommending a new approach for HIV testing in laboratories that capitalizes on the latest technology to improve diagnosis" during the "earliest stage of HIV infection," said Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, in a statement. "With consistent and widespread use of this new testing method, we can diagnose people several weeks earlier than before."

"we can diagnose people several weeks earlier than before."

The new method consists of a series of three tests, reports Medscape. If the result of the first test — a fourth generation HIV test that detects the HIV p-24 antigen — is negative, no further tests are required. But if the test is positive, than the CDC recommends a second test, which can differentiate between HIV-1 antibodies and HIV-2 antibodies. Being able to tell the difference between the two can have "important treatment implications," the CDC said.

If the results of the second test are negative, however, a third and final test will be necessary to ensure "accurate detection of early infection" or to indicate "a false positive from the fourth generation test," the CDC explained.

"Nearly 1 in 6 people living with HIV in the United States do not know they have HIV, meaning that they are missing out on essential care and may unknowingly transmit the virus," Mermin said. And about half of the estimated 50,000 new HIV infections that happen each year are transmitted by people who don’t know their HIV status. So, the CDC is urging laboratories to adopt the new approach as quickly as possible. "On National HIV Testing Day," Mermin said, "I urge all Americans to take the test and take control of their health."