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Pope taken to Rome hospital

John Paul II has acute respiratory infection, Vatican says

From Alessio Vinci
CNN Rome Bureau Chief

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ROME, Italy (CNN) -- Pope John Paul II was taken to a hospital late Tuesday with an acute respiratory infection, hours after aides announced he was suffering from the flu, the Vatican said.

He was taken urgently to Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic about 11 p.m. to have his infection examined further. The pope has been treated at that hospital in the past, but a rushed trip late at night is unusual.

Vatican sources said the 84-year old pontiff was undergoing a round of tests, including X-rays, so that doctors can determine the seriousness of the infection.

He has not been placed in the intensive care unit, the sources said.

The pope's Vatican doctors decided to send him to the hospital after his symptoms worsened, sources said.

Earlier Tuesday, the Vatican said the pontiff had canceled his public and private meetings for the next few days, including his general audience on Wednesday, due to a bout with influenza.

"The pope joined the millions of Italians who have caught the flu," chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said.

The decision to clear the pontiff's calendar came a day after the pope was forced to cancel his Monday meetings. At the time, the Vatican said John Paul had a mild fever.

Before the pope was taken to the hospital, Vatican sources said there was no reason for concern.

They said the cancellations were made to give advance warning to the thousands of pilgrims who gather in St. Peter's Square each week to get a glimpse of the pope.

The pope last appeared in public Sunday. His voice was hoarse, but he appeared to be in good spirits.

His health has been relatively steady in recent months, and he looked in better health than during the summer and fall of 2003, when trips to Croatia and Slovakia appeared to take a heavy toll on the frail pontiff.

The last time health problems forced him to cancel an event was September 2003, when he was suffering from a intestinal ailment.

The pope suffers from a number of chronic ailments, including Parkinson's disease. He has survived an assassination attempt and undergone nine operations -- including a hip replacement.

The weather in Rome has been uncharacteristically cold the past few weeks, and Italian health officials had warned of a flu outbreak.

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