Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an acute, acquired, monophasic autoimmune disorder of peripheral nerves that develops in susceptible individuals after infection and, in rare cases, after immunisation. Exposure to influenza via infection or vaccination has been associated with GBS. We review the relation between GBS and these routes of exposure. Epidemiological studies have shown that, except for the 1976 US national immunisation programme against swine-origin influenza A H1N1 subtype A/NJ/76, influenza vaccine has probably not caused GBS or, if it has, rates have been extremely low (less than one case per million vaccine recipients). By contrast, influenza-like illnesses seem to be relevant triggering events for GBS. The concerns about the risk of inducing GBS in mass immunisation programmes against H1N1 2009 do not, therefore, seem justified by the available epidemiological data. However, the experiences from the 1976 swine flu vaccination programme emphasise the importance for active and passive surveillance to monitor vaccine safety.
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