Ongoing social, political and ecological changes in the 21st century have placed more people at risk of life-threatening acute and chronic infections than ever before. The development of new diagnostic, prophylactic, therapeutic and curative strategies is critical to address this burden but is predicated on a detailed understanding of the immensely complex relationship between pathogens and their hosts. Traditional, reductionist approaches to investigate this dynamic often lack the scale and/or scope to faithfully model the dual and co-dependent nature of this relationship, limiting the success of translational efforts. With recent advances in large-scale, quantitative omics methods as well as in integrative analytical strategies, systems biology approaches for the study of infectious disease are quickly forming a new paradigm for how we understand and model host-pathogen relationships for translational applications. Here, we delineate a framework for a systems biology approach to infectious disease in three parts: discovery - the design, collection and analysis of omics data; representation - the iterative modelling, integration and visualization of complex data sets; and application - the interpretation and hypothesis-based inquiry towards translational outcomes.