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Health Highlights: Dec. 19, 2013

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Teens Opting for Real Pot

While U.S. teens are staying away from synthetic marijuana, they're smoking more of the natural version, a new survey of more than 40,000 students shows.

USA Today reported Wednesday that high school seniors who said they smoked synthetic drugs such as K2 and Spice dropped from 11 percent in 2012 to 8 percent in 2013.

However, one in 15 seniors reported smoking marijuana daily in 2013, a sharp increase from only one in 50 reporting daily use two decades ago.

The survey, supported by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse and conducted by University of Michigan researchers, included students in grades 8, 10 and 12.

The investigators also found that fewer teens see marijuana as risky -- from 75 percent nearly 20 years ago to 44 percent last year and 40 percent this year, USA Today reported. When marijuana use is perceived as safe, its usage tends to increase, a study researcher noted.

About one-fourth of seniors said they'd smoked pot in the previous month, the report indicated. Meanwhile, 36 percent of seniors, 30 percent of sophomores and 12 percent of 8th graders reported smoking marijuana in the past year.

"Young people are getting the wrong message from the medical marijuana and legalization campaigns. If it's continued to be talked about as a benign substance that has no ill effects, we're doing a great disservice to young people in giving them that message," Gil Kerlikowske, director of National Drug Control Policy, told USA Today.

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New Mosquito-Borne Virus in Caribbean: CDC

A travel advisory for Americans going to St. Martin has been issued after the Caribbean island reported the first cases in this part of the world of a mosquito-borne virus called chikungunya, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

There have been 10 confirmed human cases on the French side of St. Martin and testing to confirm other cases is ongoing. Outbreaks of chikungunya have occurred in some parts of Africa, Europe, Asia and the Pacific, but this is the first time that the disease has been reported among non-travelers in the Western Hemisphere, the CDC said.

This suggests that the virus is now present in populations of mosquitoes on St. Martin and is being spread locally. It's possible that the virus will spread to other Caribbean islands and to surrounding mainland areas in coming months and years. The mosquitoes that transmit the virus are also found in some areas of the United States, the CDC said.

Infection with the chikungunya virus -- which cannot be spread from person to person -- is rarely fatal but it can cause severe and debilitating joint pain. There is no vaccine for the virus and no specific treatment for the infection. Patients recover in about a week, but some have long-term joint pain. Once a person has been infected, they're believed to have lifelong immunity to the virus, according to the CDC.

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