The mechanisms responsible for the immunosuppression associated with sepsis or some chronic blood infections remain poorly understood. Here we show that infection with a malaria parasite (Plasmodium berghei) or simple systemic exposure to bacterial or viral Toll-like receptor ligands inhibited cross-priming. Reduced cross-priming was a consequence of downregulation of cross-presentation by activated dendritic cells due to systemic activation that did not otherwise globally inhibit T cell proliferation. Although activated dendritic cells retained their capacity to present viral antigens via the endogenous major histocompatibility complex class I processing pathway, antiviral responses were greatly impaired in mice exposed to Toll-like receptor ligands. This is consistent with a key function for cross-presentation in antiviral immunity and helps explain the immunosuppressive effects of systemic infection. Moreover, inhibition of cross-presentation was overcome by injection of dendritic cells bearing antigen, which provides a new strategy for generating immunity during immunosuppressive blood infections.