PITTSBURGH, OCT. 25 -- Mario Lemieux is undergoing treatment for a rare, potentially career-threatening bone infection that can cause severe pain, but he is recovering quickly and should be able to play again, his doctor said today.

Pittsburgh Penguins orthopedist Charles Burke said "it is way too early" to speculate that Lemieux's career is in danger and he challenged published reports that the all-star center has a serious bone disease.

In a copyright story today, the Pittsburgh Press quoted doctors as saying the two-time NHL scoring champion had a form of vertebral osteomyelitis, which damages the bony portion of the spine. The condition can cause debilitating, even crippling pain.

Osteomyelitis can be a serious condition, but Burke has hesitated to use its formal name because, he said, "It isn't a disease, it's an infection. Mario has what we've said all along, a disk infection that has affected the bone.

"Nothing has changed. Using a formal, strict medical interpretation can be confusing and misleading."

The infection is in Lemieux's fourth lumbar (lower back) vertebra, an area in which he had surgery in July to remove part of a herniated disk. Doctors are not certain whether the infection resulted from the surgery or from a flu-like condition Lemieux developed several weeks later.

Burke prefers to call Lemieux's condition diskitis, an infection that begins in the tissue and cartilage and becomes more serious if it affects the bone.

"He doesn't have a rare disease," Burke said. "It may be rare statistically, but we see it all the time. That's why we know how to treat it. It is slow-growing and invades and grows along . . . the better word to use is inflammation."

The problem is not directly with the infection, which is being treated by antibiotics, but the damage it leaves behind, Burke said. Tests so far have shown a "very small" amount of damage.

"The amount {of infection} will determine how he does in the future," Burke said. "If it doesn't heal completely, he could have real problems . . . but if it heals, he could be 100 percent. Nobody knows. It's too early to make predictions."