7 Profit Opportunities that Will Change the Future

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Some of the first recorded cases of what became known as the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 popped up at Camp Funston in Kansas. During World War I, as many as 50,000 soldiers were trained at the camp.

1. The dirty little secret of influenza vaccines: They are not as effective as most people assume. And the effectiveness of the flu shot each year varies significantly and across age groups. That’s because you’re getting a shot against last year’s flu strains, and this year’s flu strains may not be quite the same. For example, in the flu year of 2012–13, the shot was estimated to be effective for only 32% of those above the age of 65.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that the vaccine for 2013–14 appears to be one of the most effective ever produced, so effective that an FDA advisory committee has unanimously recommended the same vaccine be used for 2014–15, although half the vaccines next year will add an additional strain. That’s mostly because this year’s vaccine protects against H1NI, which was first seen in the pandemic of 2009. H1N1 has returned this season as the predominant strain.

A recent article in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows that not only is this year’s vaccine protecting an average of 61% of the population, but it has high results across all age groups — not always the case. For children aged 6 months to 17, the vaccine is proving to be 67% effective. For adults 18–64, it’s 60% effective, and for people over 65, it’s 52% effective.

Nonetheless, the age group hardest hit by hospitalizations for flu this year has the lowest compliance with getting a shot — those 18–64. More than 60% of those hospitalized for influenza this season were in that age group.

Although many who get flu shots may still get ill, those who don’t get flu shots are far more likely to end up in a hospital, and even intensive care units, fighting for their lives. In a recent case study from Duke University published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine that looked at flu patients admitted to intensive care, only two of 22 had gotten their shot.

The CDC reported in December that less than 45% of eligible Americans got a flu shot in the 2012–13 season, but estimated those shots prevented 6.6 million cases of influenza and kept 79,000 people out of the hospital.

Flu shots can be complicated. This season’s dose contains protection against an H1N1 strain, an H3N2 strain and a virus known as B/Massachusetts/2/2012. The FDA committee advised adding a fourth strain known as B/Brisbane/60/2008 to the mix for 2014–15. In some years, all the strains are changed, depending on what types of viruses are being reported.

The Mercedes B-Class sells for about $10,000 less than any other Mercedes now imported into the United States, but the Tesla-powered electric version on its way to U.S. dealerships will cost as much as a C-Class gasoline-powered Mercedes.

2. A Mercedes with a conscience: Mercedes-Benz has long kept its affordable best kept secret in Europe and other parts of the world. It’s called the B-Class, and it’s a sleek part van, part car, part SUV that hauls five in comfort and carries lots of cargo in its rear hatch. B-Class cars, as you might expect, are lots cheaper in Europe than the C, E and S models sold here — less than $35,000. But it’s beginning to look like Mercedes has finally relented to let the B into the U.S. — as an electric.

Introduced last year at the New York auto show, the B electric uses a Tesla motor and a Tesla battery, essentially part of giveback to Mercedes from its partnership with Tesla. Interestingly, the Tesla drivetrain might be even more prestigious these days than the Mercedes three-pointed star logo. The car recharges in three hours, gets at least 90 miles electrically and (hopefully) will carry the same plug-in as a U.S. Tesla Model S, allowing it to be recharged at supercharging stations throughout the country (for no cost).

Once the B gets here, we can only hope that the Euro-version diesel model priced far less than the electric (rumored to be about $40,000) is next in line. Mercedes has been stingy in the U.S. with its excellent line of diesel options. Only the Mercedes BlueTEC E-Class is available with a diesel engine in this country. In Europe, nearly every model is available with several diesel engines. If Mercedes could get the price of the new B electric down closer to $30,000, it would beat Tesla to an affordable electric in the U.S. by at least three years.

3. Our own brainpower is the limit: For decades, researchers believed that there might be a ceiling to how much sunlight can be converted to electricity by a solar cell or solar panel — 34%. With solar panel manufacturers increasing their efficiencies from 12% to 24% in just the last few years, the barrier has become a matter of concern.

More and more of the Earth’s surface is likely to be taken up by solar panel “farms,” as solar photovoltaics become a cheaper way to make electricity than coal, nuclear or gas-fired power plants. California has mandated that a third of all electricity generated in the state come from renewables like solar by 2020, and large parcels of land are suddenly covered by black and blue panels. Now a team of scientists at the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory have developed an inexpensive material and the process for laying it onto solar panels that handily breaks through the 34% barrier. Using copper iridium selenide, the researchers were able to convert more of the blue spectrum of light that hits solar cells into electricity. Most solar panels do not respond well to that part of the spectrum, and incoming photons end up primarily as heat, instead of producing a flow of electrons.

Both doctors and patients like azithromycin because it involves only five days of taking pills, leading to far better compliance by patients.

4. An antibiotic to think twice about: American physicians are in a dangerous habit — their go-to antibiotic has become azithromycin. It’s easy to take — one pill a day for five days — and patients show high compliance. Yet in many, if not most, cases, azithromycin can make patients sicker, not better. Its widespread use as the most popularly prescribed antibiotic in the United States has helped superbugs, as well as many other threatening bacteria, become resistant to it.

And it’s dangerous. In just the last year, the FDA has warned that azithromycin can cause a fatal arrhythmia of the heart known as torsades de pointe. The Canadian Pediatric Society has insisted that azithromycin not be used at all in cases of pneumonia, ear infections and sore throats in children. The Infectious Diseases Society of America has recommended that azithromycin not be used at all for sinusitis. A Centers for Disease Control study published Feb. 14 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report indicates that azithromycin is often ineffective in cases of shigella, a common but potentially fatal diarrhea.

Often, there are better antibiotics to prescribe for common illnesses. Researchers have been insisting for years that in the vast majority of cases, antibiotics should not be prescribed at all. Last October, a review study of 94 million patient visits to doctors published in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that in 73% of visits for acute bronchitis and 60% of visits for sore throats, patients left with prescriptions for antibiotics. That, the journal says, is a huge mistake. New guidelines suggest only 10% of sore throat patients and no acute bronchitis patients should get prescriptions. About 15% of all the sore throat prescriptions in the study were made for azithromycin — often ineffective. Yet good old penicillin, which was prescribed in only 9% of cases, remains highly effective in treating sore throats.

Researchers now believe that a cough from acute bronchitis, which typically follows a cold or flu, should go untreated for at least three weeks, the amount of time the body takes to overwhelm it. But studies show that most sufferers in the United States go to their doctors for bronchitis within a week after symptoms begin, and they typically get a prescription.

Overuse of antibiotics is not just causing rapidly increased resistance by bacteria. It causes allergies, yeast infections, nausea and an increasing association with irritable bowel syndrome.

At the American Academy of Emergency Medicine assembly two weeks ago, Dr. Joseph Lex of Temple University, presenting on the overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics like azithromycin, said, “If we don’t stop, we’re not going to have good antibiotics in the future. Every country that has recommended the use of narrow-spectrum antibiotics instead has seen a fall in their resistance rates. We just have to get to the point where we do the same thing.”

U.S. Natural Gas Pipeline Network

Source: Energy Information Administration (EIA)
There are more than 210 systems of pipelines that carry natural gas to most parts of the United States, and more than 1,400 compressor stations that maintain pressure. Gas is stored underground in tanks at more than 400 places.

5. A spidery web of gas: It’s almost impossible to grasp that there are more than 300,000 miles of gas pipelines snaking underground the United States. By comparison, there are 470,000 miles of interstate highways. There are 250,000 rivers. Texas produces about 100 trillion cubic feet of natural gas a year, almost a third of the 335 trillion cubic feet produced in the United States. Wyoming is second, at about 35 trillion cubic feet. Louisiana, Oklahoma and Colorado are not far behind. About 66 million homes burn natural gas as a heating and cooking source. Another 5 million commercial enterprises use gas. Natural gas is mostly methane, or CH4. It produces about half as much CO2 per Btu as coal and about 75% as much as oil.

6. Tell me which mirror is fairest of them all: Rearview mirrors in cars are just awful. Every year, the mirrors themselves get cheaper, offer less clarity and resolution and seem to get worse at dealing with that jerk behind you who has his brights on. Just go sit in a 1958 Chevy at a car show to see how awful rearview mirrors have become. Nissan intends to fix that. The company debuted its new camera/screen technology for rearviews at the Geneva Motor Show this month. The idea is simple but extraordinary: Link a wide-angle/high-res camera mounted on an ideal spot at the back of the car and have it play out on a screen where the mirror used to be. Besides offering a view that has less distortion and a wider angle for blind spots, the system isn’t hampered by roof pillars, head restraints and people bobbing around in the back seat. Thermal night vision could be incorporated into the system as well as sophisticated “dimming” based on light frequencies and intensities. Why didn’t someone think of this before? (Some manufacturers like GM do offer a small picture in a rearview mirror for backing-up cameras, but they didn’t seem to think of going all the way with the idea.)

Go here for a video about how it works (and an interesting lesson on Japanese culture).

Researchers are closing in on exactly what’s in coffee that helps prevent Type 2 diabetes.

7. Keeping drinking the bean juice: More good news about coffee and Type 2 diabetes: Last month, we looked at studies that showed a decrease in Type 2 diabetes among coffee drinkers, an effect measurable even if the coffee was decaffeinated and even if only one cup of coffee a day was consumed. This month, a study in the journal Diabetes Care strongly reinforces the earlier studies. Using case studies of more than 1.1 million people from 1966–2013, the authors conclude that there is a “robust inverse association between coffee consumption and risk of diabetes. Compared with no coffee consumption, consumption of six cups per day of coffee was associated with a 33% lower risk of Type 2 diabetes. Caffeinated coffee and decaffeinated coffee consumption were both associated with a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes.”

The study suggests that something other than caffeine is causing the lower risk of diabetes, because decaffeinated coffee consumption showed results as meaningful as caffeinated coffee. The authors also note:

chlorogenic acid, a phenolic compound, is a major component of coffee and has been shown to reduce blood glucose concentrations in animal experiments. Chlorogenic acid may reduce glucose absorption in the intestines by competitively inhibiting glucose-6-phosphate translocase and reducing sodium-dependent glucose transport in the brush border membrane vesicles, by reducing oxidative stress as a result of its antioxidant properties and by reducing liver glucose output. Other components of coffee may also improve glucose metabolism, including lignans, quinides and trigonelline.

For a scientific paper, the authors take a bold stand, concluding that “higher consumption of coffee is associated with a significantly lower risk of diabetes.”

So you’ve got a good excuse to drink as much as you want for at least another month.

Best regards,

Stephen Petranek
for The Daily Reckoning

Ed. Note: The next generation of exciting new technology is coming online all the time. And for in-the-know investors, that translates to huge profits. Stephen Petranek has made it his mission to be one of those investors… and to help educate other investors on how to play the trends accordingly. He’s also a regular fixture in the FREE Tomorrow in Review email edition, which you can sign up for, right here.