Most epidemiological surveys in the Italian population, have concentrated on areas of northern and central Italy. The incidence of the first-ever ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes in a well-defined population of the province of Foggia, a rural area of southern Italy, over a 3-year period has been investigated, to compare the occurrence of stroke by type in this and other areas. A retrospective study in a local health district (USL FG3) in the province of Foggia was conducted and all cases of first-ever cerebral infarction (CI) and intracerebral hemorrhage (ICH) in the local population (41 269) from January 1, 1993 to December 31, 1995 have been investigated. Case ascertainment was performed by a chart review in the two local hospitals and examination of death certificates. General practitioners were also asked to report on non-hospitalized cases suffering a stroke during the study period. Patients with recurrent stroke, unclassifiable stroke, transient ischemic attacks and subarachnoid hemorrhage were excluded. Risk factors for stroke and 30-day mortality were investigated. The rates were standardized to the Italian population (57 138 489, 1991 census). During the 3-year study period, 202 patients had a first-ever ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke (66 in 1993, 69 in 1994 and 67 in 1995). Of these, 174 (86.1%) had cerebral ischemia, accounting for 57, 60 and 57 cases in the three index years. The overall crude annual incidence of CI and ICH was 1.60, 1.67 and 1.62 of 1000 for 1993, 1994 and 1995, respectively. The corresponding standardized incidences rates were 2.0, 2.10 and 2.06 of 1000. The rate was 0.11 in patients <55 years of age, and 1.97, 7.01, 13.52, and 25.34 at ages 55-64, 65-74, 75-84, and 85+ years for the entire period; the 30-day mortality was 27.2, 21.7, and 15% for 1993, 1994, and 1995, respectively. Hypertension (45.9%), diabetes (26.4%) and atrial fibrillation (16.6%) were the most common risk factors. The incidence of CI and ICH was similar to that of most other Italian studies. It was constant during the 3-year period, and mostly involved older people.