Since its initial description as a Th2-cytokine antagonistic to interferon-alpha and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor, many studies have shown various anti-inflammatory actions of interleukin-10 (IL-10), and its role in infection as a key regulator of innate immunity. Studies have shown that IL-10 induced in response to microorganisms and their products plays a central role in shaping pathogenesis. IL-10 appears to function as both sword and shield in the response to varied groups of microorganisms in its capacity to mediate protective immunity against some organisms but increase susceptibility to other infections. The nature of IL-10 as a pleiotropic modulator of host responses to microorganisms is explained, in part, by its potent and varied effects on different immune effector cells which influence antimicrobial activity. A new understanding of how microorganisms trigger IL-10 responses is emerging, along with recent discoveries of how IL-10 produced during disease might be harnessed for better protective or therapeutic strategies. In this review, we summarize studies from the past 5 years that have reported the induction of IL-10 by different classes of pathogenic microorganisms, including protozoa, nematodes, fungi, viruses and bacteria and discuss the impact of this induction on the persistence and/or clearance of microorganisms in the host.