We report the results of a search for features found in infrared of Wolf-Rayet stars in `Wolf-Rayet' galaxies. To a high degree of confidence we can rule out any possible detection of these features in our target objects, NGC 5253, He 2-10 and Haro 2. The upper limits we can place on a Wolf-Rayet population are considerably poorer than in previous optical work, but we can conclude from this that there is not a heavily reddened population of such stars in these galaxies. Given that starburst galaxies tend to have strong, uneven continua, against which weak, broad lines are intrinsically hard to detect, and that many of these lines also appear in absorption in main-sequence O stars, we conclude that it is likely that most galaxies will not have detectable Wolf-Rayet signatures in the near-infrared. For one of our targets, NGC 5253, we serendipitously discovered weak emission lines arising from H_2_, [Fe III] and He I. Consideration of the line ratios from these data has led us to conclude that the molecular hydrogen emission in NGC 5253 is dominated by a low-density photodissociation region, that the central starburst nucleus has a T_eff_ considerably in excess of that indicated by the ratio of He I 2^1^P-2^1^S 2.058 microns to Brγ, and that the forbidden iron emission ([Fe II], [Fe III]) present in the nucleus is likely to be due to either H II regions with unusually low iron depletion or young supernova remnants.