(THE SUN) — The Medieval disease famously wiped out one third of Europe’s population in the 13th and 14th centuries in one of the most devastating pandemics in human history now known as the Black Death.
Today the disease – which has a 90 to 100 per cent mortality rate – has been classed by the World Health Organization as a “re-emerging human pathogen”.
Dr Ashok Chopra, a professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas, is leading studies he hopes will develop a vaccine to counter all three strains.
He told The Sun Online: “We are specifically looking at pneumonic plague because the mortality rate associated with pneumonic plague is very high – almost 100 percent.”
Bubonic plague is the most commonly recognized strain of the disease – but the pneumonic variant is much more virulent, and unlike bubonic, is spread via airborne particles.
“If terrorists use those organisms – they could utilize the bacteria. It could lead to mass deaths in a very short period of time. It would spread very, very quickly.
“Think about the bubonic plague in Europe in the 13th, 14th century. One third of the population was wiped out because of infection. That’s the typical scenario that you should think of.
“At the time it started with the bubonic plague and then it went to the pneumonic plague and one third of the population died so the consequences could be enormous.”
His team’s lab research had so far shown promising results on rats – they were successfully vaccinated for five months against the disease.