Phlebotomine sandflies transmit pathogens that affect humans and animals worldwide. We review the roles of phlebotomines in the spreading of leishmaniases, sandfly fever, summer meningitis, vesicular stomatitis, Chandipura virus encephalitis and Carrión's disease. Among over 800 species of sandfly recorded, 98 are proven or suspected vectors of human leishmaniases; these include 42 Phlebotomus species in the Old World and 56 Lutzomyia species in the New World (all: Diptera: Psychodidae). Based on incrimination criteria, we provide an updated list of proven or suspected vector species by endemic country where data are available. Increases in sandfly diffusion and density resulting from increases in breeding sites and blood sources, and the interruption of vector control activities contribute to the spreading of leishmaniasis in the settings of human migration, deforestation, urbanization and conflict. In addition, climatic changes can be expected to affect the density and dispersion of sandflies. Phlebovirus infections and diseases are present in large areas of the Old World, especially in the Mediterranean subregion, in which virus diversity has proven to be higher than initially suspected. Vesiculovirus diseases are important to livestock and humans in the southeastern U.S.A. and Latin America, and represent emerging human threats in parts of India. Carrión's disease, formerly restricted to regions of elevated altitude in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, has shown recent expansion to non-endemic areas of the Amazon basin. © 2012 The Authors. Medical and Veterinary Entomology © 2012 The Royal Entomological Society.