Spike in Travis County flu cases triples number of positive tests from past years

Trisha Dasgupta, General News Reporter

Editor’s note: a previous version of this story said 49% of students said influenza negatively impacted their academic performance. The story has been updated to reflect the correct number of 61%. The Texan regrets this error.

A highly active flu season led to a spike in Travis County cases, according to Austin Public Health in an Oct. 22 press release.

“Travis County’s flu positivity rate was almost 33% the week ending Oct. 8,” APH said in the release. “The previous week it was 11%. Traditionally it’s less than 1% this time of year.”

Data from the fall 2021 National College Health Assessment shows that among University students who reported flu or influenza-like illness in the past 12 months, 61% reported that it negatively impacted their academic performance, Susan Hochman, the associate director for communications at University Health Services said.

Flu cases are classified as either a positive flu test or an influenza-like illness, or ILI, that is not COVID-19. People are diagnosed with an ILI if they get diagnosed a few days after they initially contract the flu. According to data from Susan Hochman, associate director for assessment, communications and health information technology at University Health Services, UT has dealt with 220 positive flu cases and 407 ILI cases diagnosed by UHS in the first 14 weeks of the 2022-23 school year. In the first 14 weeks of the 2019-20 school year, there were 324 flu diagnoses or positive tests, and 202 ILI cases. 

“This year, we have (fewer) flu diagnoses at this point in the semester than we did (in 2019) and (more) ILIs,” Hochman said. “We have categories of how we report and we have flu diagnosis or a positive flu test. Influenza-like illness could be that somebody wasn’t tested and a reason for somebody to not be tested would be that they were symptomatic for more than 48 hours.”

With the increase in reported flu and ILI cases, UHS chose protocols to protect both students and staff in on-campus clinics. Hochman said the organization utilizes telehealth to continue to help students, without putting others at risk.

“Masking really helps to protect our workforce so that they can continue to provide great care to our students,” Hochman said. “During peak flu times, providers may become less reliant on testing for flu, and instead, based on clinical history and risk factors, may go ahead and prescribe the antivirals for flu. This is particularly helpful.”

With the rise in cases, APH highly encourages Travis County residents to get the flu vaccine. According to Hochman, 10,185 longhorns have received their flu shot on campus so far this year. Students can make appointments online through MyUHS. 

“Peak flu season tends to correlate with a time of the semester (during which) students tend to be busier,” Hochman said. “That’s one of the reasons that we are here to support students and to prevent things like the flu from being a barrier to their academics.”