VATICAN CITY - Pope John Paul II had difficulty breathing as he battled the flu and will spend a few more days in the hospital, the Vatican confirmed Wednesday, but it said tests showed his heart was functioning normally and the pope had rested for several hours overnight.
The 84-year-old pontiff had "just a little fever," papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in elaborating on a terse medical bulletin issued by the Holy See. He told Vatican radio the pope would spend "a few more days" in the hospital, but added that there was "no cause for alarm."
John Paul was being treated Wednesday for respiratory problems in the Gemelli Polyclinic. He was rushed there late Tuesday from his Vatican apartment after coming down with influenza, Vatican officials said. No further medical bulletins were expected Wednesday, they said.
"The cardio-respiratory and metabolic levels at present are within the norm," the bulletin said.
The pope was being treated Wednesday for respiratory problems in the Gemelli Polyclinic. He was rushed there late Tuesday from his Vatican apartment, where he had been battling the flu for several days, Vatican officials said. No further medical bulletins were expected Wednesday, they said.
The papal spokesman said John Paul was taken by ambulance to the hospital after doctors decided "he could be better treated there than here (the Vatican)." In response to a reporter's question, Navarro-Valls denied that the pope lost consciousness, saying: "No, for God's sake!," and he ruled out any need for a tracheotomy.
Navarro-Valls said that as he was leaving the hospital Wednesday, the pope's secretary was celebrating Mass in the hospital room and that John Paul was concelebrating from his bed. Navarro-Valls said he didn't know whether the pope had eaten any breakfast.
He characterized Tuesday night's hurried admission to a special papal suite on the 10th floor of the hospital as "mainly precautionary" for the pope, who also suffers from Parkinson's disease. Trying to appear reassuring, Navarro-Valls even joked at one point that John Paul was taken by ambulance to the hospital because "the subway doesn't go that far."
John Paul was first examined in the emergency room before being taken to his hospital suite, Italian TV and news agency reports said.
Navarro-Valls, who has a medical degree, told The Associated Press early Wednesday that the pope has the flu and acute laryngeal tracheitis - inflammation of the trachea, a breathing passage - and had a "certain difficulty in breathing." He denied Italian news reports that John Paul had a CAT scan at the hospital or that he was taken to intensive care.
In a separate statement, the Vatican also said the pope had experienced a "larynx spasm crisis."
Tracheitis requires hospitalization and usually a breathing tube to keep the airway clear. The spasms are likely a complication from the respiratory illness the pope has had. It is possible his Parkinson's disease, which makes muscle control difficult, made it harder for him to breathe.
The first sign of the frail pope's illness came on Sunday, when he kept clearing his throat during a 20-minute appearance at his studio window, thrown wide open on one of Rome's most bone-chilling days in years so he could release a pair of doves symbolizing peace into St. Peter's Square.
Prayers for the pope were being said by faithful in churches around Rome, as well as in his native Poland.
"After we got the news we added a special prayer during our morning Mass," said Bishop Szczepan Wesoly, who presided at the service at the Polish church near Piazza Venezia in the center of the city attended by Polish nuns in black habits.
Security arrangements were among the tightest in memory at the hospital - a Roman Catholic teaching institution about 2 1/2 miles from the Vatican - where the pope has stayed some half-dozen times, starting in 1981 when he was critically injured by a gunshot wound to the abdomen in an assassination attempt in St. Peter's Square.
When he was elected pontiff in 1978, John Paul was a robust 58-year-old with an athlete's physique who was serving as archbishop of Krakow in his native Poland, where he played soccer, skied and kayaked as a youth. Less than three years later, in May 1981, he suffered his first health crisis when he was shot by a Turkish gunman in the square.
Other serious medical problems requiring hospitalization included a bowel tumor, described by doctors as benign and removed in 1992, intestinal problems which led to the 1996 removal of his appendix and a 1994 broken thigh bone, fractured in a fall in his bathroom.
A close member of the pope's staff, American Archbishop James Harvey, said John Paul had congestion and a slight fever earlier Tuesday, apparently symptoms of a flu that Vatican Radio on Monday had described as mild.
Tuesday morning the Vatican announced that papal engagements including his weekly general audience on Wednesday was canceled.
Until the pope was taken to the hospital late Tuesday, the Vatican had been issuing reassuring news about his condition.
Harvey said the decision to hospitalize the pope was made by close aides in his apartment complex, who include his longtime Polish secretary.
The flu has been sweeping through Italy since December. The Rome region, shivering through nighttime subfreezing temperatures in an unusual cold spell, has been among the hardest-hit.
It was not known whether the pontiff had a flu shot.