05/06/2002 12:00AM

Foal illness creeping up


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The number of sick foals admitted to Lexington's two major equine clinics with symptoms related to mare reproductive loss syndrome rose over the weekend, raising fears among Kentucky breeders that the mysterious illness is back.

Dr. Bill Bernard, president of the Kentucky Association of Equine Practitioners, confirmed Monday that the number of foals hospitalized with MRLS-related symptoms had risen from three on May 1 to between 16 and 20 by May 6. But he emphasized that the number of sick and dead foals is dramatically lower than during the early stages of last year's MRLS outbreak, when more than 300 foals were lost between April 28 and May 10.

Bernard said that the death loss among hospitalized foals so far this year is about 20 percent. Dead foals routinely are submitted for examination at the Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center in Lexington, which was to issue its weekly count of aborted fetuses and dead foals on Thursday.

"It's not easy to be precise about numbers of affected foals, because it's not easy to determine what foals are affected by MRLS and what ones aren't," Bernard said.