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Watertown man urges Northern New Yorkers to get vaccinated after wife dies of flu

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WATERTOWN — Sara J. Piddock Martin was rushed from her Stuart Street home to the emergency room on the evening of Feb. 16, unconscious and without a pulse.

Just two days later, the 45-year-old mother of two children and four stepsons died in the intensive care unit of Samaritan Medical Center of a severe case of influenza.

“I could see her drift away,” her husband, Robert J. Martin Jr., said. “She was revived at the hospital and taken to the ICU. The doctor came out and said she had what’s believed to be a very bad case of the flu.”

Lab results later confirmed the doctor’s initial diagnosis, and the Martins now are urging north country residents to get vaccinated regardless of their age.

Mrs. Martin had an autoimmune disorder called Sjögren’s syndrome but otherwise did not have any health issues, Mr. Martin said.

Sjögren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease from which as many as 4 million Americans are suffering, according to the national Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation. The disease causes white blood cells to attack moisture-producing glands, according to the foundation.

Mrs. Martin, a licensed real estate broker and co-owner of GM Property Management, Watertown, woke up coughing on Feb. 15 and visited a walk-in clinic that day. But she was well enough to go grocery shopping afterward, Mr. Martin said.

It wasn’t until the next morning that she started having more serious symptoms, including vomiting and diarrhea.

About 5 p.m. on Feb. 16, Mr. Martin insisted that she needed to go to the hospital, and, as they were getting ready to leave, Mrs. Martin lost consciousness.

“I don’t think the general public realizes how serious this is,” Mr. Martin said, adding that even if influenza vaccines do not completely prevent someone from catching the flu, the vaccines should lessen the severity of the illness.

Jefferson County Supervising Public Health Nurse Patricia A. Esford said this season’s flu seems to be affecting more than usual young adults and the middle-aged — people between the ages of 20 and 60 who are less likely to get flu shots than the elderly and children.

“And don’t think the flu is gone,” she said. “Each flu season is very unique. Some flu seasons last until late May.”

Statewide, the number of reported flu cases has been on the rise since late February.

According to the latest state Influenza Surveillance Report, 2,594 laboratory-confirmed influenza cases were reported during the week ending April 5 — a 147 percent increase compared with the last week of February.

Four children were reported to have died of influenza-related complications this season, the report said.

Adult flu deaths are harder to track because agencies are not required to report them, Mrs. Esford said.

There had been one other flu-associated adult death reported in Jefferson County, but Mr. Martin suspects there are many more who died unexpectedly like his wife.

Mr. Martin said his family plans to make public presentations to raise awareness about the importance of seasonal flu vaccination so that fewer adults and children die from a preventable disease.

This season’s flu shot combats H1N1 — a deadly strain of the influenza virus commonly known as “swine flu” — as well as other influenza A and B strains.

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