Pope Francis hospitalized for respiratory infection

STORY: Pope Francis has a respiratory infection and will need to spend "a few days" in the hospital for treatment.

That’s according to a statement from the Vatican on Wednesday – which said the 86-year old pontiff was taken to a Rome hospital after complaining of breathing difficulties over the past few days, but had tested negative for COVID-19.

Francis is sometimes short of breath and generally more exposed to respiratory problems, having had part of a lung removed in his early 20s.

His latest hospitalization comes ahead of a Palm Sunday service on April 2 that marks the start of a hectic week of ceremonies leading to Easter Sunday on April 9, throwing into doubt whether he would be able to lead them.

Francis' health has attracted increased scrutiny in the past two years, during which he has undergone colon surgery and begun using a wheelchair or a walking stick due to chronic pain in one knee.

The Vatican had initially said the pope had gone to the hospital on Wednesday for a scheduled check-up. But Italian media reported that he arrived in an ambulance after canceling a television interview at the last minute.

Francis appeared to be in good health Wednesday morning at his weekly general audience in St Peter's Square.