The mammalian immune system is intricately regulated, allowing for potent pathogen-specific immunity to be rapidly activated in response to infection with a broad and diverse array of potential pathogens. As a result of their ability to differentiate into distinct effector lineages, CD4 T cells significantly contribute to pathogen-specific adaptive immune responses. Through the production of effector cytokines, CD4 T helper (Th) cells orchestrate the precise mobilization of specific immune cells to eradicate infection. The protective effects of the newly identified lineage of Th17 cells against pathogens like Klebsiella pneumoniae, Citrobacter rodentium and Candida albicans indicate the capacity of Th17 cells to confer protection against extracellular bacterial and fungal pathogens, filling a critical void in host immunity not covered by the classically described Th1 lineage that activates immunity to intracellular pathogens or the Th2 lineage that is important in protection against mucosal parasitic pathogens. Host defence by Th17 cells extends beyond protection against extracellular bacterial and fungal pathogens, as demonstrated in infections against intracellular bacteria like Listeria monocytogenes and Salmonella enterica, as well as Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Herein, we summarize both experimental data from mouse infection models and epidemiological studies in humans that demonstrate the protective effects of interleukin-17 and Th17 CD4 T cells in immunity to bacterial, mycobacterial and fungal pathogens.