To determine the incidence, types and risk factors for infection in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, we retrospectively reviewed the medical records of 102 patients with definite SLE attending a specialist clinic. Details of major infections (pneumonia or severe infection requiring intravenous therapy) and minor infections, and their time of onset in relation to immunosuppressive therapy and disease flares were recorded. There were 77 major and 163 minor infections during 564 patient-years of follow-up. In the month following a course of pulse methylprednisolone, the incidence of major infection was 20 times higher and the incidence of minor infection was 10 times higher than at other periods (p < 0.0001). In the month after disease flare, the incidence of major infection was 10 times higher and the incidence of minor infection six times higher than at other times (p < 0.0001). After allowing for methylprednisolone therapy and disease flares, there was no increase in the rate of infections during treatment with azathioprine, oral or intravenous cyclophosphamide. There was no effect of renal involvement on infection rate.