ROME - Pope John Paul II was rushed to the hospital urgently Tuesday night after he suffered inflammation of the throat and had difficulty breathing while battling the flu, the Vatican said.
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told The Associated Press that the decision to hospitalize the 84-year-old pontiff was "mainly a precaution."
He pointed out that the pope was not in intensive care but in the same 10th floor suite of rooms where he has been during several previous stays at Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic, about 2 1/2 miles from the Vatican.
The pope has the flu and acute laryngeal tracheitis, Navarro-Valls said, acknowledging the pontiff had a "certain difficulty in breathing." The spokesman, who has a medical degree, denied Italian news reports that the pope had a CAT scan at the hospital.
Navarro-Valls said more tests will be done and the Vatican would issue a medical report sometime after 9 a.m. (3 a.m. EST) Wednesday. The hospital said the first statement would be from the Vatican. Journalists were being kept out of the facility.
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's 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."
A close member of the pope's staff, American Archbishop James Harvey, said the pope 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 the pope would be held overnight for observation but there was no indication he was gravely ill.
It was the same Rome Catholic teaching hospital he was taken to when he was shot in the abdomen in 1981 and at which he has undergone several operations.
Navarro-Valls told the Italian news agency ANSA that the pope was in his room in an apartment set aside for him at the hospital, which is near the Vatican.
The frail pontiff has Parkinson's disease, which makes his speech difficult, as well as 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 had been taken to the hospital, the Vatican had been issuing reassuring news about his condition, up to Tuesday's late night news cast on Vatican radio.
First word of his transfer to the hospital Tuesday night came from Italian news media.
The Vatican announced earlier Tuesday that it had canceled the pope's engagements for the next few days.
The canceled appointments included John Paul's weekly public audience Wednesday. 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.
The flu has been sweeping through Italy since December. The Rome region, which is shivering through a cold spell that has dropped temperatures below freezing at night, has been among those hit the hardest.
About 40 percent of the flu cases have been children, with the elderly making up only a small fraction of cases after an aggressive campaign of flu vaccinations for older people, health officials said.
It was not known whether the pontiff had a flu shot.
Vatican Radio asked Navarro-Valls earlier Tuesday if the pope felt the good wishes of people worldwide who are concerned about his health.
"I think so, and as always, the Holy Father is grateful for the prayers of the faithful and of all those who love him. I think this closeness means a lot to him," Navarro-Valls said.
John Paul has kept a busy schedule despite experiencing difficulties with speech and movement that are typical for Parkinson's sufferers.
The last time the pope skipped an audience for illness was in September 2003, when he canceled his traditional Wednesday appointment for pilgrims and tourists because of an intestinal ailment.
The Vatican makes brief announcements when the pope falls ill but rarely provides details about the extent of the illness or any medication he may be taking.