Infectious diseases, both in their endemic and epidemic forms, have shaped the human genome. Ecology has also contributed to geographically constrained pressures on human populations. There are now multiple examples of population-specific genetic variants that modulate susceptibility to infection - several of which have been observed solely in Europeans. The pathogen genome also mutates and adapts to individuals and common alleles in populations. The current understanding has benefited from genome-wide association studies as well as from rapid progress in the genetic characterization of Mendelian immunodeficiencies that are defined by susceptibility to specific pathogens. It is expected that current efforts to characterize rare human genetic variants will contribute to the understanding of severe manifestations of common infections in European and other human groups.