Although co-infection is the norm in most human and animal populations, clinicians currently have no practical tool to assist them in choosing the best treatment strategy for such patients. Given the vast range of potential pathogens which may co-infect the host, obtaining such a practical tool may seem an intractable problem. In ecology the joint concepts of functional groups and guilds have been used to conceptually simplify complex ecosystems, in order to understand how their component parts interact and may be manipulated. Here we propose a mechanism by which to apply these concepts to pathogen co-infection systems. Further, we describe how these groups could be incorporated into a mathematical modelling framework which, after validation, could be used as a clinical tool to predict the outcome of any particular combination of pathogens co-infecting a host. Copyright © 2008 Cambridge University Press.