Haem oxygenase (HO)-1 is a cytoprotective enzyme that plays a critical role in defending the body against oxidant-induced injury during inflammatory processes. HO catalydes the degradation of haem to carbon monoxide (CO), biliverdin and ferrous iron. Biliverdin is converted to bilirubin, a potent endogenous antioxidant. CO has a number of biological functions, including anti-inflammatory properties. In various models of disease, HO-1 is known to play a critical role by ameliorating the pathological consequences of injury. In many of these models, the beneficial effects of HO-1 and its products of haem catabolism are by suppressing an inflammatory response. However, when investigating diseases due to microbial infections, inhibition of the inflammatory response could disrupt the ability of the immune system to eradicate an invading pathogen. Thus, questions remain regarding the role of HO-1 in microbial host defence. This microreview will address our present understanding of HO-1 and its functional significance in a variety of microbial infections.