Washington: More than 6,000 HIV cases annually in the US can be linked to the popular classified ad website Craigslist, researchers, including one of Indian-origin, claim.
Craigslist's entry into a market results in a 15.9 per cent increase in reported HIV cases, according to researchers from the University of Minnesota.
When mapped at the national level, more than 6,000 HIV cases annually and treatment costs estimated between USD 62 million and USD 65.3 million can be linked to the popular website, researchers found.
"I actually think that the creators of Craigslist had no intent of harming society. They came in with good intentions," said Jason Chan, Assistant Professor of Information and Decision Sciences at the Carlson School of Management.
"At the same time, they did not anticipate that users could use the features in an unexpected way with unintended consequences," said Chan.
Chan and Professor Anindya Ghose of New York University Stern School of Business based their claims after analysing data in 33 US states from 1999 to 2008.
After conducting a series of tests to eliminate other possible causes that might be driving the HIV trends such as increased testing in a community, the researchers discovered that the upward shift was influenced by ads in Craigslist's personals sections, not the site's escort service ads.
This finding was in line with existing research that shows internet-facilitated sex workers are less likely to participate in risky sexual practices with clients.
"Our study results suggest that there is a new social route of HIV transmission that is taking place in this digital era," said Chan.
"Health care practitioners and policymakers have to look more closely at online platforms to assess how its usage may facilitate the spread of HIV and STDs across the country," Chan added.
According to Chan, the research provides practitioners with insights on how they can effectively target their efforts to reduce disease transmission facilitated through classified ad sites.
The study was published in the journal MIS Quarterly.