The number of electronic laboratory-reported local cases of COVID-19; the flu; and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, remains stable, said Dr. Desmar Walkes, medical director and health authority for Austin-Travis County.

What's happening?

While numbers appear stable, there is an underreporting of cases due to home testing, Walkes said. It can be equally tricky to know which illness someone has as all three share many of the same symptoms, and people can be sick with more than one virus at a time.

Common symptoms include:
  • Fatigue
  • Upper respiratory congestion
  • Cough
  • Muscle pain or aches
  • Fever or chills
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Diarrhea
According to Walkes, all three viral illnesses can be prevented with vaccinations.

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other basic preventive measures include hand-washing, wearing a mask to reduce the amount of germs breathed in, improving air quality through air filters and keeping a distance from those who are sick.

“Each of these respiratory viruses can be treated, but it is important to know what is making you sick, so it is important to see a provider, get tested and get treated,” Walkes said. “These diseases can cause severe illness. The risk is higher in the very young and very old, especially those who are living with a chronic health condition or those that are immunocompromised.”

Diving in deeper

Walkes said the COVID-19 variant circulating the state is of XBB lineage, one of the newer reported strains.

Laboratory-reported cases of COVID-19 are down significantly in Austin since 2022, according to data from the Austin Public Health COVID-19 dashboard. In 2022, there were nearly 150,000 lab cases reported. So far, there are just over 21,000 reports this year.

However, APH officials reiterated this data only includes lab-reported tests and does not include home tests.

“As a result, [the data is] an underestimate of the community’s COVID burden since many people are testing at home,” officials said.

The dashboard showed as of Sept. 25 in Austin:
  • There were 21,076 lab-reported cases.
  • There were 71 deaths.
  • The median age of the diagnosed was 33.
  • The median age of fatalities was 71.
APH officials said local RSV case data is not available as it is not a reportable condition, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists makes recommendations as to which conditions should be reportable, and state health departments decide which conditions will be reported on a state level. The TDSHS has not ever included RSV in the list.

Still, the virus can be severe for infants and older adults and require hospitalization, according to the CDC, so vaccines and other preventive measures are recommended.

Walkes said health care providers will begin collecting flu data at the beginning of October for the 2023-24 flu season. APH will post its first flu report—which collects data weekly through May—at the end of the month.

Per the Austin-Travis County Influenza Surveillance, during the 2022-23 flu season in Travis County, there were:
  • 12 adult flu-associated deaths
  • 14 flu-associated outbreaks in schools
  • 3,000 positive flu tests during week of Oct. 31, the peak of the season