With rising rates of drug-resistant infections, there is a need for diagnostic methods that rapidly can detect the presence of pathogens and reveal their susceptibility to antibiotics. Here we propose an approach to diagnosing the presence and drug-susceptibility of infectious diseases based on direct detection of RNA from clinical samples. We demonstrate that species-specific RNA signatures can be used to identify a broad spectrum of infectious agents, including bacteria, viruses, yeast, and parasites. Moreover, we show that the behavior of a small set of bacterial transcripts after a brief antibiotic pulse can rapidly differentiate drug-susceptible and -resistant organisms and that these measurements can be made directly from clinical materials. Thus, transcriptional signatures could form the basis of a uniform diagnostic platform applicable across a broad range of infectious agents.