The MERS virus arrives in the US: what is the threat?

(4 May 2014)  The US recorded its first case of MERS this week as an Indiana man returning from a visit to Saudi Arabia came down with the mysterious virus and was hospitalized.  He is said to be recovering and out of danger.  MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) is a new and deadly virus that has sickened more than 400 people, of whom a quarter have died since 2012.  MERS has similar features to the SARS virus that caused a worldwide travel alert in 2003.  While the MERS virus seems to be inefficiently transmitted and thus has remained fairly contained within Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, its high mortality rate is cause for concern.  But just how much of a threat is MERS?

In a previous article on SARS, I noted how global epidemics may be more likely to occur when the planet Neptune is prominent in some way, either by transit or within the national horoscopes of affected countries.  Although it is not always a malefic influence in our lives, Neptune is the planet most closely associated with disease and weakness.   When Neptune is in a close angular relationship with negative planets such as Saturn or the nodes, Rahu and Ketu, it tends to correlate with problems -- either diseases, floods, or even political scandals.  In addition to disease, Neptune is said to rule liquids and situations of deception and intrigue.  We should also note its more problematic side when it is placed in a negative dussthana house (6,8,12).  In the chart of an individual, a poorly placed Neptune can correspond with chronic disease or weakness.  It also tends to be prominent in the charts of people who abuse drugs and alcohol. 

By way of historic comparison, we can see that Neptune was quite prominent during the SARS outbreak in early 2003 (The above planetary listing is for March 12, 2003 when the WHO issued a worldwide alert).  First, transiting Neptune was sitting almost exactly on the ecliptic, i.e. the horizontal plane of the Sun and the solar system.  In common astrological measurement, Neptune's latitude was +00°01.  Due to Neptune's very slow velocity, Neptune was within two arc minutes of the ecliptic for all of 2003 during the SARS crisis.  This was a very rare event since Neptune only crosses the ecliptic at 00°00 once every 85 years or so.  In fact, the last time Neptune conjoined the ecliptic was in 1918-1919 at the time of the "Spanish Flu" pandemic that killed 50 million people.  Another way of expressing this ecliptic conjunction is that Neptune was transiting near its planetary node at 18 Capricorn.  Like the Moon, each planet has a pair of nodes.  Neptune's north and south nodes are around 18 Cancer and 18 Capricorn.  Whenever Neptune comes close to these points in the sky, we are more likely to see some obvious manifestation of its energy, whether it be an epidemic or flood.

The other thing worth noting about Neptune and the SARS epidemic was that Neptune was afflicted in the New Year's chart for January 1, 2003 at midnight.  Neptune (15 Capricorn) was aspected by both Rahu (14 Taurus) and Saturn (0 Gemini).  Rahu (North Lunar Node) is considered a natural malefic and casts a full strength 120 degree trine aspect.  Rahu-Neptune aspects would tend to bring out the dangerous side of Neptune, especially since Rahu symbolizes unboundedness.  This may have played a role in the inability of health authorities to control the epidemic which spread to many countries outside China including Canada, the US and Australia.  Saturn's 135 degree ("sesquisquare") aspect is not a full strength aspect but it is almost exact and therefore was likely a key part of the SARS puzzle from an astrological perspective.  Traditional Vedic astrologers should note that the 135 degree aspect between two planets in the natal chart produces a conjunction in the D-8 ashtamsa divisional chart.  The D-8 chart is associated with troubles and obstacles, not unlike the 8th house.

The current planetary situation for MERS looks less afflicted.  Neptune is not near its nodes (i.e. the ecliptic) so that should lessen the severity of this outbreak.  However, we can see that Neptune is afflicted in the 2014 New Year's chart.  Neptune (9 Aquarius) comes under the disruptive aspect of Rahu (11 Libra) and Neptune is placed in the 6th house of health and disease.  While the absence of any aspect from Saturn is favourable, Neptune is sitting very close to the equal house cusp of the 6th house not only for this year but for 2015 and likely 2016 as well.  Neptune moves only two degrees per year and where the locational Ascendant is near 15 Virgo, Neptune will have a potentially harmful effect on health.  The Ascendant varies a few degrees from country to country in the New Year's chart in any given year, usually close to mid-Virgo.  

The bottom line here is that the planetary picture suggests that MERS will not be as bad as SARS, nor thankfully, as the 1918 flu.  This is perhaps already evident given its relatively lower profile over the past two years.   Experts may still fear it could mutate into something more easily transmissible but the astrological evidence, such as it is, does not support that view.   However, the persistence of Neptune's placement in the 6th house of the New Year's chart suggests that MERS and perhaps other epidemics will remain a significant concern through 2014.  September and October this year could be times when MERS comes into sharper focus given the partial aspects of Saturn and Rahu to Neptune at that time.  Looking ahead, I would note that Saturn forms a forward square aspect with Neptune late in 2015 and through much of 2016.  This could increase the likelihood of suffering and harm from Neptune-related situations like disease and flood.  Neptune will also be conjoined by Ketu in mid- to late-2016 so that could be a time when humanity is more vulnerable to MERS or some other viral disease or collective illness.

Financial Markets Update

Despite ongoing worries over Ukraine, US stocks moved higher last week on strong earnings reports.  The Dow hit a new all-time high and closed up 1% at 16,512.  Indian stocks slipped on pre-election profit taking with the Sensex ending the week at 22,403.  I had suggested the week would be fairly mixed given the positive and negative short term aspects here. I did wonder what effect, if any, the separating Jupiter-Uranus aspect might have on optimism and stock prices.  So far, we would have to say that there hasn't been much change in the generally sunny disposition of most global investors.  The separation of this Jupiter aspect is a gradual process so we should not be surprised if nothing much happens in the near term.  Over the medium term, however, I would be more skeptical about the ability for stocks to remain at these lofty levels.  Of course, some location conditions such as the Indian election and the probability of a BJP win could temporarily offset any diminution of the bullish Jupiter influence.

This week looks a little more bearish as the Sun lines up against Saturn and Venus begins to oppose Mars.  Both of these pairings look difficult.  Early week gains are possible, however, as the Sun aligns with Jupiter.