An experiment was carried out to determine whether idazoxan, a drug which increases the turnover of central noradrenaline, removes the malaise (reduced alertness, slower psychomotor performance) associated with upper respiratory tract illness (URTI). Eighty-one volunteers were tested when healthy and 17 returned to the laboratory when they developed URTIs. Those who remained healthy were then recalled as a control group. Volunteers were tested before and after receiving either idazoxan (40mg) or a lactose placebo. Idazoxan removed the URTI-induced slowing in a simple reaction time task and this group performed at a comparable level to the healthy group. No significant stimulant effect of idazoxan was found in the healthy subjects. The results suggest that at least part of the malaise induced by URTIs may reflect reductions in central noradrenaline and that this can be reversed by compounds such as idazoxan.