If you are going to use an idiom, or simile, go ahead and use "avoid [something] like the plague".
"Avoid [something] like the plague" is an idiom that is commonly understood. There is nothing that I have thought of, or seen suggested here, that carries the same connotations, or would be as widely understood as "avoid * like the plague". Trying to use something else as a replacement for "plague" is effectively attempting to create your own idiom. We all know what "the plague" was and that we want to avoid it.
People don't need the thing which is stated as what we are to avoid to be something that is/was more immediate to them. If this was the case, then the "Spanish Flu", or just "Flu" would have taken hold in the 1920's after 500 million people were affected by it worldwide. Google Ngrams does not find any uses of things similar to "avoid * like Spanish Flu", or "avoid * like flu", whereas "avoid * like the plague" clearly has a reasonable amount of usage.
My expectation is that when people read/hear "avoid * like the plague", a significant number are including an interpretation of the idiom as if it was stated as "avoid it like a plague", where plague means any of (merriam-webster.com):
a : a disastrous evil or affliction : calamity
b : a destructively numerous influx
a : an epidemic disease causing a high rate of mortality : pestilence
rather than just specifically "the Plague":
b : a virulent contagious febrile disease that is caused by a bacterium (Yersinia pestis) and that occurs in bubonic, pneumonic, and septicemic forms —called also black death
Thus, the idiom, "avoid * like the plague", already allows people to substitute in, in their own minds, whatever thing they feel should be avoided.
Using something other than "the plague" sounds, to me, made up or forced. If that is what you are trying to convey in what you are writing, then go ahead and use something else. If you are trying to use something which feels natural when people are reading/hearing it, go ahead and use "avoid * like the plague".
The articles say not use the cliché, not just to update it
What the articles which you linked in the Question are trying to say is not that you should use a different cliché-like phase in place of the cliché you are replacing, but that you should reword, or re-think, what you are writing so that you don't end up at a point where using the cliché feels like the correct phrase. Ultimately, the point of those articles is not that the cliché should be updated to something that is more relevant to the audience, but that neither the cliché, nor an updated version of it, should be used.
Hat tip to WS2, who posted as the first comment on the question that "avoid [something] like the plague" does not need to be updated.