When facing an emerging infectious disease of conservation concern, we often have little information on the nature of the host‐parasite interaction to inform management decisions. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the life‐history strategies of host species can be predictive of individual‐ and population‐level responses to infectious disease, even without detailed knowledge on the specifics of the host‐parasite interaction. Here, we argue that a deeper integration of life‐history theory into disease ecology is timely and necessary to improve our capacity to understand, predict and mitigate the impact of endemic and emerging infectious diseases in wild populations. Using wild vertebrates as an example, we show that host life‐history characteristics influence host responses to parasitism at different levels of organisation, from individuals to communities. We also highlight knowledge gaps and future directions for the study of life‐history and host responses to parasitism. We conclude by illustrating how this theoretical insight can inform the monitoring and control of infectious diseases in wildlife.