Objectives To examine how the frequency of information regarding a real disease threat influences hand washing with soap. Design and setting The authors installed wireless devices in highway service station lavatories in England to record the proportion of individuals washing hands with soap from May 2009 to January 2010. Participants Participants were users of men's and women's toilets. Combined there was an average of 6800 participant entrances into the lavatories daily. Primary outcome measure The primary outcome measure is the proportion of soap usage to the number of entries into the lavatories. Results Hand-washing rates were positively related to both H1NI coverage in blogs and the news; however, these relationships were stronger for men than for women. Conclusions Hand washing with soap increases proportionally to the frequency of media key words related to H1N1. Women's hand washing was more strongly associated with incidence of media keywords than men's.