By Dan Daly, Journal Staff Writer
RAPID CITY -- Among the seven Rapid City victims of this summer's Legionnaire's disease outbreak was Rapid City's own mayor, Jim Shaw, he confirmed Friday.
Shaw said he has no idea how he contracted the disease. "It's a real mystery and frankly kind of scary," the mayor said Friday in a telephone interview from his home, where he is recovering from heart surgery.
He believes the Legionnaire's disease stressed his body and exacerbated a heart condition that had not been diagnosed before. On July 25, after he recovered from the disease, Shaw underwent heart bypass and valve replacement surgery.
"In a way, (Legionnaire's disease) was a blessing in disguise because it revealed my heart issue before it became more serious," he said.
Early this summer, six other Rapid City residents were struck by the same disease, according to the South Dakota Department of Health. One of its victims, Merrilyn Burchell, 55, died of Legionella pneumonia on July 1.
It is unusual to have seven confirmed cases in a small geographic area and in such a short period of time. In a normal year, three to five cases of Legionnaire's disease are reported in South Dakota, state epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger said Thursday.
Officials are looking for any common links between the victims. Shaw said he was asked a number of questions about where he had been and what he had been doing.
As of Thursday, no link between the Rapid City cases had been found.
Legionellosis, named for the 1976 outbreak at an American Legion convention, is a bacterium-based disease that can cause a severe form of pneumonia. It can be found in creeks, ponds, hot and cold water taps, hot-water tanks, water from air-conditioning systems and soil from excavation sites. It is not spread from person to person.
Shaw said he began feeling ill the day after the June 21 Base Closure and Realignment Commission, or BRAC, meeting.
"Quite frankly, I attributed it to kind of a letdown after everybody being keyed up from the BRAC meeting," he said.
But it turned out to be more than a letdown. By the following weekend, the aches and listlessness got worse, and he developed a fever. The next week, his doctor told him he had pneumonia and prescribed antibiotics.
The antibiotics didn't help, and by the following weekend, his fever reached 103.8 degrees. He was admitted to Rapid City Regional Hospital on July 1. It was there that Dr. Jorge Reyno, infectious disease specialist, told him he had Legionnaire's disease.
"I said, ‘Doctor, I'm old enough to remember Legionnaire's disease,'" Shaw recalled. A different type of antibiotic was prescribed, and Shaw's condition improved.
At the time, state health officials asked Shaw not to publicly announce that he had Legionnaire's disease. He said they wanted to investigate the cases without causing a panic. When he was hospitalized July 1, his illness was listed as pneumonia.
Contact Dan Daly at 394-8421 or