Retrospective demographic information and hospital record data were collected for 337 patients resident in Spain who had validated Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) diagnoses and clinical onset during the period 1985–1997 and had been admitted to 11 centres, covering a population of 3.9 million. The European age-adjusted GBS incidence per 100,000 for 1985–1997 among the population aged 20 and over was 0.85, with a breakdown of 1.14 in men and 0.58 in women. Incidence increased with age and time, with occasional rises that mimicked outbreaks and occurred at irregular 2- to 4-year intervals, mainly in winter. Spatial variation was modest. Respiratory and gastrointestinal infections respectively constituted 49.3 and 19.3% of recorded preceding events. The 97.5% intercentile limit, obtained from the 1985–1997 monthly incidences using predictions from a Poisson model, was proposed as the threshold value for pilot epidemiological surveillance of GBS in 1998–1999.

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