Although many doctors may disagree, a new study indicates that stitches resulting from minor surgery can -- and apparently should -- get wet.

"Patients frequently asked, 'Can I get my stitches wet?' Physicians differ in their recommendations. Some feel that stitches and the wound should be kept dry, while others feel comfortable letting the stitches and the wound get wet," said Dr. Joel M. Noe, an assistant professor of plastic surgery at Harvard Medical School.

To answer that question, Noe studied 100 patients who had benign or malignant lesions removed from their skin at the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston and had the incision closed with nylon stitches.

All the patients were asked to wash the wounds with soap and water twice a day starting the morning after surgery. They were told they could shower and wet the stitches but were advised not to bathe. They were evaluated three to 12 days later.

"All the wounds were noted to heal . . . There were no infections," Noe reported in the January issue of the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

"There is no data to suggest that a wound with stitches that is kept dry heals faster, has less incidence of infection, has less pain, or has greater . . . strength," said Noe.

Allowing patients to wash their stitches has several advantages, he said. "First, it tends to make people less intimidated by their wounds. Second, the wound is cleaner when you see it so it's much easier to remove the stitches, and I think you get a finer scar," he said in an interview. Showers are safer than baths because bath water gets easily contaminated, he said.