Autopsy determines that RPI Student died from the flu, H1N1


TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – An autopsy determined that 28-year-old, Yeming Shen, died from influenza-a H1N1; a rare strain that appeared back in 2009.

The death of the Chinese graduate student sent a wave of fear and rumors across campus and the surrounding community.  Rensselaer County Executive, Steve McLaughlin, and Public Health Director Mary Fran Wachunas said the reactions were premature. 

“As much as social media can spin things up and out of control very quickly and assume something to be true, it’s not necessarily the case. Even when you give them the facts, they say well we don’t believe you anyway. The truth is the young man died of H1N1 flu and it’s sad. That’s the underlying fact here, someone lost their life,” said McLaughlin.

“We learned in 2009 that younger people didn’t have the immunity for the swine flu. So, for young people back in 2009, there was a high rate of mortality,” said Wachunas. 

There has been a heightened concern surrounding the novel coronavirus within the last couple of weeks and while it is certainly something to be aware of, county and state health directors continue to stress that the flu is far more prevalent and poses a much higher threat to New Yorkers. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there have been 15 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in the U.S. with zero confirmed deaths. That’s compared to the 22 million cases of the flu across the country this season resulting in more than 12,000 deaths.  

Typically, it is young children and the elderly who are at a higher risk, so for a 28-year-old man to die from the flu, Wachunas acknowledged that it can be alarming. She said the reality is, flu-A can range from being mild to very sudden and severe. 

“It really depends on the strain that you come in contact with,” said Wachunas. “Ya know a young man lost his life. You would think in the prime of his life. You would think most people would be able to fight off anything at that age but you don’t know, everybody’s different,” said McLaughlin. 

News10 has not been able to receive answers as to whether the student got the flu shot. 

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) sent a letter to their students explaining that they are seeing five times the number of flu cases this year than they normally do. Currently, they are out of the vaccine at the Student Health Center but said they’ll be getting another shipment in the coming days. 

“If you do get the flu vaccine, it does help you. It may not stop the flu from getting to you, but it does help relieve the symptoms and all the flu vaccines that we’ve had the last couple of years have H1N1 in them,” said Wachunas.

Wachunas is urging people who are showing symptoms to see a doctor, stay home from work, and take care of yourself. 

RPI, like most other colleges, has a student health center right on campus. Students can also be treated at any of the nearby hospitals or urgent care centers. Flu shots are available at almost all pharmacies.  

New numbers from the State Department of Health show that as of last week, they reported there were 835 confirmed cases of the flu in the Capital Region. Albany county reporting the highest number at 214 confirmed cases. All reported numbers are split between Flu-A and Flu-B. 

According to the New York State Department of Health, “Adult death due to influenza is not reported to DOH because influenza is not always diagnosed with a lab test and other health comorbidities (issues) can contribute to death. Instead, statistical models used by the CDC are used to estimate the annual number of seasonal flu-related deaths.”


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