Jan. 9, 2014— -- Alice Jones and her husband, Darrell, both in college and raising three children, got sick with the flu on a Thursday. By Monday, Alice, 29, an aspiring Dallas nurse, was dead.
Darrell Jones, a criminal justice student who served in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan for nearly a year, said he and his children are so devastated they can't stay in their house and are temporarily living with relatives.
"I made it through Afghanistan and thought we would move on with our lives," said Jones, who turned 27 the day his wife died. "I was thinking that was the most dangerous part of our marriage."
Neither Jones nor his wife had gotten flu shots this year. At the time of her death at University General Hospital on Jan. 6, doctors insisted that the three children, ages 10, 7 and 3, be checked out and vaccinated.
One of the boys tested positive for flu.
"If that didn't happen, maybe my son would have died, as well," said Jones. "I don't know what I would have done if it was my wife and son."
The family will hold a funeral for Alice on Jan. 10, and in the meantime, her husband is encouraging others to get their flu shots.
"This is so sad," said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC's chief health and medical editor. "Each year thousands of people die from the flu. Fortunately, most people who get the flu are sick for a couple of weeks but fully recover. Still, it is worth doing all you can to reduce the chances you will get the flu. This includes getting vaccinated (it's not too late), washing your hands frequently and practicing the behaviors you'd like others to follow: Cover your cough with your elbow or a tissue and stay home from work if you are sick. This should help keep those around you healthier."
Between 3,000 and 49,000 Americans die of influenza each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 200,000 are hospitalized annually with flu-related complications, such as pneumonia. This week alone 20 states reported high numbers of people seeking outpatient treatment for the flu, according to the latest CDC reports. As in weeks past, the 2009 H1N1 virus continues to be the most common strain.
In the past four years, the CDC has changed its recommendations, and now urges all Americans 6 months and older to get a flu shot. Children under the age of 9, who are getting immunized for the first time, should get two doses of the vaccine, one month apart.
Jones said doctors told him the strains that killed his wife were A and B. Her death, when confirmed by an autopsy, would bring the total flu deaths in Dallas County to 17, according to officials.
The CDC has reported six pediatric deaths so far this flu season.
About 100 American children die each year from the flu, according to Families Fighting the Flu, an advocacy group that helped push for universal immunization.
But young families like the Joneses often skip the vaccine.
"There are a lot of myths out there," said Dr. Andrew Eisenberg, who is one of the medical advisers for Families Fighting the Flu and an adjunct professor at the School of Rural Public Health at Texas A&M University.
"They think they are going to get the shot and get the flu," he said. "Second, especially the younger ages, think, 'Other people need it more than me. I am healthy and it won't affect me.'"
There is also confusion over what exactly the flu is, according to Eisenberg. "It's a respiratory illness that is contagious and transmitted through droplets. It gets on surfaces and transfers from the hands and mouth.
"People are also fearful of things they can't see -- and you can't see influenza," he said. "They don't think of it as an immediate threat."
Health experts also don't know why some people are more susceptible to severe illness and death. "There may be some genetic links to death in a population," said Eisenberg. Obesity and a history of smoking also seem to be clear risk factors, he said.
Darrell Jones said that while he began recovering from his flu symptoms last weekend, his wife never seemed to shake it.
"She was congested and had a sore throat and her head was hurting," he said. "We both had a fever, but I got over it in the first two days."
She treated her symptoms with over-the-counter medicines but on Saturday went to the emergency room at Charlton Methodist Hospital, where she was diagnosed with the flu and given "a couple of bags" of medicine, according to Jones.
By Sunday night, Alice Jones started to experience shortness of breath, and her husband gave her warm tea, which helped ease the symptoms. She had no history of asthma or respiratory illness, he said.
"I was thinking she was just having a little anxiety from being sick," said Jones.
Monday morning, Jones said he took his wife to their local medical clinic, and when they found that her blood pressure was low, the clinic called 911 and she was rushed to University General Hospital, where she began to experience seizures.
"They were going to do a CT scan and got her into the ICU," said Jones. "She started coding, and they couldn't get her stable. I made it out there on time before her last breath. … It was a big shock. I still can't really believe it."