National HIV Testing Day is an annual observance encouraging people to get tested for HIV and normalize testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Also known as National HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, National HIV Testing Day is observed annually on June 27.

“National HIV Testing Day is commemorated in the United States to promote HIV testing, raise public knowledge of HIV, lower the stigma attached to HIV, and promote early diagnosis and treatment,” says Jennifer A. Veltman, MD, chief of infectious diseases at Loma Linda University Health.

It was first celebrated in 1995, which was toward the end of the AIDS epidemic. Antiretroviral therapy — a life changing treatment for HIV that’s still used today — was introduced 1 year later.

The main goal of National HIV Testing Day is to promote testing for the virus, says Veltman. To celebrate, we put together this guide to answer all your questions about HIV testing.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone ages 13 to 64 get tested for HIV at least once in their lifetime and that higher risk groups increase testing to once a year.

But Veltman notes that higher risk groups may opt to get tested more often than that.

You’re considered part of a higher risk group if you have:

According to the CDC, gay men, bisexual men, and men who have sex with other men or people assigned male at birth are also at a higher risk of HIV.

To be clear, the virus doesn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity, age, or ethnicity, says Denise Pate, MD, medical director at Medical Offices of Manhattan.

“Anyone can contract HIV, and the idea that only homosexual and bisexual men need to get tested for HIV is false,” explains Pate.

You’re still encouraged to get tested even if you don’t fit into the above higher risk groups and don’t believe you have been exposed to the infection, says Veltman. Especially on National HIV Testing Day!

“There have been several patients in my practice who have no apparent ‘risk factors’ for HIV acquisition, but ended up testing positive,” she says.

Many people who are living with HIV don’t know that they’re HIV-positive because they haven’t been tested.

In some cases, people living with HIV may not suspect exposure or get tested until they experience early symptoms of HIV or until the condition advances to AIDS.

It typically takes 10 to 15 years for untreated HIV to advance to AIDS.

There are two main types of HIV tests:

  • Rapid HIV tests: These tests require a small sample of blood (usually from the finger) or saliva and can provide results within 20 to 30 minutes. “Rapid tests are often used in clinics or other settings where quick results are needed,” says Pate.
  • Lab-based HIV tests: These tests require a blood sample (usually from a vein) that’s sent to a laboratory for analysis. Results on these aren’t available for several days, and it may take up to 2 weeks to get the results back.

“For those who do not have the time or means to contact a healthcare provider for testing, at-home HIV tests offer a convenient alternative,” says Pate.

“They also enable people to test for HIV in the comfort of their own homes, which can be particularly useful for those who might feel awkward discussing their sexual health with a medical professional or who experience anxiety at the mere prospect of waiting in a doctor’s office for test results,” she says.

No, HIV testing is incredibly accessible.

Planned Parenthood states that all insurance plans must cover HIV testing for everyone ages 15 to 65 without a copay, as well as anyone outside this age bracket who has an increased risk of contracting HIV.

If you don’t have insurance or you don’t want someone on your insurance plan to see that you’re getting tested for HIV, free and lower cost HIV testing is still an option.

Use the CDC’s Get Tested directory to search for free HIV testing sites near you.

If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, consult a healthcare professional immediately. Postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) can help prevent infection if taken within 72 hours of potential exposure.

Generally speaking, HIV tests are highly accurate. Antibody test results for HIV have an average accuracy rate of 99%.

But there’s a period of time that’s often known as an incubation or window period between when you have been exposed to the virus and when a test can detect it.

You’re more likely to get a false-negative result if you take a rapid HIV test within 3 months of potential exposure or a lab HIV test within 45 days of potential exposure.

“It’s crucial to remember that no test has a 100% accuracy rate,” says Pate. “They’re uncommon, but [false] positives and false negatives can happen.”

False results are more common with rapid HIV tests than lab-based HIV tests. That’s why if you get a positive result with a rapid oral HIV test, healthcare professionals will give you a “confirmatory” blood test before making an official diagnosis.

These days, people with HIV have a similar life expectancy to those without. Still, prevention is the best medicine.

Practice safer sex

Using a condom or other barrier method during partnered sexual activity, including oral, vaginal, and anal sex, can lower the risk of STI transmission between partners.

Staying on top of your current STI status and sharing that information with potential sexual partners can further reduce the risk of transmission and infection.

“Having an STI can increase the risk of contracting HIV, so it’s important to get tested and treated for any STIs,” explains Pate.

She recommends getting a full STI screen when you get tested for HIV — perhaps more often than that, if possible.

Consider taking preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP)

PrEP is a medication that can be taken daily by HIV-negative people to reduce the risk of contracting HIV if they’re exposed to the virus, explains Pate.

“It’s recommended for individuals who are at high risk of contracting HIV,” she says.

This includes people who:

  • have a sexual partner living with HIV
  • have multiple sexual partners
  • have partnered sex without a condom or other barrier method
  • use injection drugs

Avoid sharing needles

HIV can be transmitted through needles and other injection equipment. Using a new, sterilized needle every time can help lower your risk of exposure.

If you’re out of fresh needles, use the North American Syringe Exchange Network directory to find a needle and syringe exchange program near you.

Checking your HIV status is often easy, affordable, and pain-free. So, in celebration of National HIV Testing Day and in the name of taking control of your own health, consider getting tested at a free or lower cost clinic near you.

Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.