Several infections have been linked to telomere shortening and in some cases these associations have varied by sex. We assessed the association between seropositivity to four persistent pathogens (cytomegalovirus (CMV), herpes simplex virus-1, Helicobacter pylori, Chlamydia pneumoniae), and total pathogen burden on leukocyte telomere length in a diverse US sample. Data came from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, a population-based cohort study. We utilized cross-sectional survey data, and biological samples from participants tested for pathogens and telomere length (N = 163). Linear regression was used to examine the association between seropositivity for individual pathogens as well as total pathogen burden and telomere length, adjusting for various confounders. CMV seropositivity and increased total pathogen burden level were significantly associated with shorter telomere length among females (β = −0·1204 (standard error (s.e.) 0·06), P = 0·044) and (β = −0·1057 (s.e. = 0·05), P = 0·033), respectively. There was no statistically significant association among males. Our findings suggest that prevention or treatment of persistent pathogens, in particular CMV, may play an important role in reducing telomere shortening over the life course among women. Future research is needed to confirm these novel findings in larger longitudinal samples.