There are signs throughout Howard County General Hospital that ask patients to inform hospital staff if they have traveled recently, even if it wasn't a trip abroad.

It's just one step the hospital has taken to ensure patients are properly treated in the wake of concerns about the Ebola virus spreading throughout the country.


If a hospital patient has a fever and has recently traveled, a nurse will take them to an isolated room for further evaluation, according to Dr. Eric Aldrich, vice president of Medical Affairs at Howard County General Hospital.

"That's how broad a net we're casting," he said of the precautions taken to ensure a patient is properly diagnosed.

In late September, a Liberian man visiting family in Dallas was confirmed to have the disease two days after he was sent home from a Dallas hospital. Thomas Eric Duncan is the first person to be diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. He died on Wednesday, the first known U.S. death from the virus.

Last week, Howard University Hospital in Washington, D.C., and Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville each had a patient suspected of having Ebola, but in each case the patient did not have the disease.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 3,000 people.

Aldrich added that hospitals are always updating their protocols since travel is so prevalent today, which enables infections to "leap large distances faster than ever before," such as SARS or MERS, two viruses that affect a person's respiratory system.

"For Howard County General Hospital specifically, given the fact that we have a diverse population in the county and we are very close to an international airport, you could argue we've been working on this for a long, long time," he said.

When Ebola stories began evolving, the hospital began modifying its existing practices along with all the hospitals within the Johns Hopkins Health System to follow guidelines set by the Center for Disease Control, Aldrich said.

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said in a statement that county officials are "vigilant and confident" that the county has the best possible public health system to respond to any situation.

"We are working to ensure close coordination between the Howard County Health Department, Howard County General Hospital and others in the health care system so that the community receives complete and accurate information about risks, prevention and treatment related to the Ebola virus," Ulman said.

While hospital officials are confident in their ability to appropriately handle an Ebola case, Aldrich said they're just as prepared for the flu season and the enterovirus.

"What we want to try to do is balance the vigilance for the rare and unusual with the common," he said, emphasizing the importance of getting a flu shot.