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Watertown man urges NNYers 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 with no pulse.

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

“I could see her drift away,” said her husband Robert J. Martin Jr. “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 are now 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 that as many as 4 million Americans are suffering from in which a person’s white blood cells attack moisture-producing glands, according to the national Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation.

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

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

At around 5 p.m. 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, it should lessen the severity.

Jefferson County’s Supervising Public Health Nurse Patricia A. Esford said this season’s flu seems to be affecting 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 — more than usual.

“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 influenza cases has been on the rise since late-February.

According to the latest state Influenza Surveillance Report, there were 2,594 laboratory-confirmed influenza cases 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 influenza vaccination so that fewer adults and children die from a preventable disease.

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

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