ROME -- Pope John Paul II was rushed to the hospital last night with breathing difficulties and an inflamed throat while battling the flu, the Vatican said.
Anxiety has been running high over the 84-year-old pope's Parkinson's disease and other ailments, but Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told the Associated Press that the decision to hospitalize him was "mainly a precaution."
He noted that the pope was not in intensive care but in the same 10th floor suite of rooms where he has stayed during several previous stays at Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic, about 2Â½ miles from the Vatican.
The pope has the flu and acute laryngeal tracheitis, he said, acknowledging the pontiff had a "certain difficulty in breathing." Navarro-Valls, who has a medical degree, denied Italian news reports that John Paul had a CAT scan at the hospital.
The flu has been sweeping through Italy since December. The Rome region has been among the hardest-hit.
Navarro-Valls said more tests will be done today. The Vatican was planning to issue a medical bulletin this morning sometime after 9 a.m. (3 a.m. EST), the spokesman said.
The Vatican said in an earlier statement that the pope suffered from "an acute laryngeal tracheitis and larynx spasm crisis."
Tracheitis, an inflammation of the trachea, requires hospitalization and usually a breathing tube to keep the airway clear. The spasms are likely a complication from the respiratory illness he has had.
It's possible his Parkinson's disease has made his condition more serious and his breathing more labored.
A Vatican official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity that the pontiff, who has had the flu since Sunday, had apparently suffered a "breathing crisis."
Italian news agencies reported that the pope was taken to the hospital in the ambulance which is always at his ready.
A close member of the pope's staff, American Archbishop James Harvey, said John Paul had congestion and a slight fever during the day.
He said the decision to hospitalize the pope was made by close aides. It apparently took many at the Vatican by surprise and cars with Vatican license plates began pulling up at the hospital only after John Paul arrived.
A State Department official, who asked not to be identified, said he would be kept overnight for observation but there was no indication he was gravely ill.
The teaching hospital is where John Paul was taken when he was shot in the abdomen by a would-be assassin in 1981, and where he has undergone several operations.
The frail pontiff's Parkinson's disease makes his speech difficult, and he also has chronic hip and knee problems.
He was last seen in public on Sunday, when he made his regular noontime appearance at his window overlooking St. Peter's Square and released a dove in a sign of peace. He appeared remarkably lively, but his words were barely audible.
Until the pope was taken to the hospital, the Vatican had been issuing reassuring news about his condition, up to yesterday's late night newscast on Vatican radio.
First word of his hospitalization came from Italian news media.
The Vatican announced earlier yesterday that it had canceled the pope's engagements for the next few days.
These included his weekly public audience today. Besides the traditional morning gathering with the faithful, he had been scheduled to preside at a candle-blessing service in St. Peter's Basilica that evening.