Step into a New York City subway and it can seem like you're witnessing biological warfare. Riders cough and sneeze all over the place, nauseating smells waft through the closed confines of the rail cars and unidentifiable puddles frequently ooze across the floor.
That's the image of rampant disease created by officials at one company that's marketing a plastic, disposable glove called the MetroMitt as the ultimate defense against the clouds of sickening, invisible germs in the transit system. The company started giving out the mitts for free earlier this week at busy subway stations during rush hour.
"Any time you touch a subway pole or handrail in New York City you are contaminated until you wash your hands thoroughly," said MetroMitt president and co-founder Jason Lipton. "There are thousands upon millions of people touching them every day."
"Now people can come and go on the subway without worrying about transferring that bacteria," he said.
Yet winning the war against germs might mean leaving behind a battlefield of used, germ-laden gloves -- even if Lipton and his colleagues encourage customers to recycle the mitts.
That concern was on the minds of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which runs New York City's buses and trains.
"These 'mitts' can possibly end up on the track bed clogging drains or increasing the likelihood of a track fire," said spokesman Kevin Ortiz.
Other obstacles lie ahead for Lipton and his partners if they're going to use public hypochondria to sell advertising space on the backs of the mitts.
Image-conscious New Yorkers might find it more revolting to wear a clear baggie than to put their bare hand on a germ-covered subway pole.
"It looks like you're about to serve french fries," said New York public interest research group Straphangers Campaign lawyer Gene Russianoff, an advocate for mass transit riders. "New Yorkers are a hearty breed. I predict the same questionable market for them like surgical masks. You see people wear them, but it's not an everyday occurrence."
There might not be much advantage to wearing the mitts only on the subway, either: Germs lurk in all public places, but they're not necessarily harmful, said University of Colorado biologist Laura Baumgartner.
"I don't have data on the trains, but that I think this is probably another germaphobe product that might be appropriate for people with serious immune problems but is probably overkill for the rest of us," she told AOL Weird News.
Lipton fought off the criticism like a white-blood cell going after an infection, saying that his company promotes good health for people and even the planet.
"As long as people recycle," he said, "it's eco-friendly."