They survived Ebola. Now they are shunned.

As the worst Ebola outbreak in history unfolds in West Africa, The Post's Joel Achenbach explains how the deadly virus wreaks havoc on the human body. (Davin Coburn/The Washington Post)

Melvin Korkor thought the hardest fight had already been won.

Weeks after contracting Ebola — most likely from a sick patient — Korkor, a Liberian doctor, was able to walk out of a treatment center in Lofa with a clean bill of health, according to Voice of America.

He was one of the lucky ones to survive the deadly disease.

But since leaving the hospital, Korkor has been fighting another difficult battle: Overcoming Ebola-survivor stigma — which, he told a Liberian radio station, "is worse than the fever."

As Korkor walked around the campus of Cuttington University recently, passersby avoided him and students and friends avoided hugs and handshakes, according to Front Page Africa.

"I am happy Dr. Korkor has returned but I am totally not convinced he is Ebola free," one student told Front Page Africa. "I will shake his hands after 21 days."

Said another student: "I will greet him from a distance."

Korkor's experience is not unusual. Ebola survival rates are frighteningly low — 10 to 40 percent of the people infected with the virus recover.

Many health centers in Liberia are closing, as medical personnel are refusing to come into work for fear of being infected with the Ebola virus. (Reuters)

With no cure, doctors are relegated to treating the violent symptoms of Ebola: raging fever, vomiting, diarrhea and pain. Re-hydration and nutrition can only help keep patients alive long enough for their body to develop antibodies to fight the virus back. There's no telling who will walk out alive.

According to the World Health Organization, the virus has now claimed 1,069 lives in Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.

The ongoing health crisis centered around these West African nations, which before this episode had never experienced an Ebola outbreak, has caused fear to spread like wildfire.

As Ebola's survivors return from quarantined medical facilities, they are forced to combat the belief that the disease is more contagious than it actually is — and that it can be spread through the air or by simple touch.

In fact, Ebola is spread through direct contact with bodily fluids (vomit, feces, urine, saliva) of a person who is currently sick with the disease or has just died of Ebola.

During the deadliest Ebola outbreak ever in western Africa, two American missionaries received an experimental drug called ZMapp. An Ebola expert explains how ZMapp is derived and how it fights the deadly virus. (Gillian Brockell and Pamela Kirkland/The Washington Post)

When Kadiatou Fanta tried to return to her life in Guinea months after recovering from the virus, she found it to be vastly different from her pre-Ebola existence.

Her boyfriend no longer took her calls, according to the Associated Press. And even professors at the medical school where she studied refused to have her in class.

"I still haven't taken my exams while my classmates have moved on to the next level," Fanta told the AP. "The professors said they were going to grade me by telephone."

The AP reported that Fanta "eats alone and sleeps alone. Even her own family members are afraid to touch her."

Survival is a miracle; survival is a curse.

"Ebola has ruined my life even though I am cured," Fanta said. "No one wants to spend a minute in my company for fear of being contaminated."

Another Guinean, Saa Sabas, somehow survived, too.

When his father fell sick, Sabas, who works in a pharmacy in Guinea, immediately went to care for him, according to an interview with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, where Sabas now volunteers.

Five days later, his father was dead. Doctors began suspecting that Sabas might have had Ebola — and that's when his watch began.

After nine days, his own fever started. No one thought he would survive.

But he lived. Before being sent home, Sabas was tested for the disease three times and handed a piece of paper — a sort of certificate of survival. It was signed and sealed proof that he was safe — that he could return to his normal life without risk of infecting his community.

"They also visited my family, the leaders and elders of my community to inform them that I had recovered and I was no longer contagious," Sabas said in an interview conducted for CNN. "Despite this, I was stigmatized."

It took time, he said, but now, he is "anti-Ebola" to his friends.

Ebola survivors, though few, play a critical role in fighting the spread of the disease. They are living proof that treatment can sometimes save lives.

"When I went back to school, some of my friends avoided me, but it's getting better," another Ebola survivor from Guinea told UNICEF. "People don't believe that I had Ebola because they can't believe I survived."

Related: WHO official hopes more experimental medicine will be available by the end of 2014

Abby Phillip is a general assignment national reporter for the Washington Post. She can be reached at abby.phillip@washpost.com. On Twitter: @abbydphillip
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