'No Pants Subway Ride': Sure It's Fun, But Is It Healthy?

(Image credit: NYC subway via Shutterstock)

Some daring New Yorkers will be pantless in public this Sunday (Jan. 12) as part of the annual No Pants Subway Ride organized by the performance art group Improv Everywhere. Given the stereotype of public transportation as teeming with germs, could showing some extra skin on the subway increase a person's risk of catching an infectious disease?

"It depends what they do there on the subway without their pants on," said Dr. Aaron Glatt, an infectious diseases specialist and executive vice president at Mercy Medical Center in Rockville, N.Y. "If they're just sitting on the subway, then it's not a problem."

Glatt said the pantless riders are unlikely to be at extra risk of catching or transmitting infections. "It's really not that much different from wearing shorts," Glatt said. In other words, you'd likely have the same risk of catching something on a given subway ride, regardless of whether you had your pants on or not. [6 Superbugs to Watch Out For]

One circumstance that would obviously not be hygienic is if a person went pantless on the subway and had incontinence or diarrhea, Glatt said.

But even with your pants on, you can catch any infectious disease on the subway, Glatt said, such as a cold or the flu.

Although subway cars look grimy and smell less than pleasant, there's nothing special about the subway in terms of transmitting germs. If you're near someone who coughs or sneezes on you, there's a chance you could get sick, too, Glatt said.

And while wearing fewer clothes in winter weather might put you at risk for hypothermia or frostbite if you were out too long, Glatt said it is also doubtful that going pantless would increase your risk of catching a cold simply because you were wearing fewer clothes.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.