JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Military doctors are treating South Africa's former President Nelson Mandela for a recurring lung infection, an ailment the 94-year-old antiapartheid leader remains susceptible to because of his age and his 27 years in prison.
Government officials acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that the illness forced soldiers to admit Mandela to a military hospital Saturday, though they said he was responding to treatment.
He fought off a similar infection in 2011 and once contracted tuberculosis while imprisoned. Experts say respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia striking a man his age are a serious matter that require monitoring.
"They call pneumonia 'the old man's friend' because it is the thing that ultimately carries many people off," said Peter Openshaw, director of the Center for Respiratory Infection at Imperial College's National Heart and Lung Institute in London. "What I guess they'll be doing is trying to find out exactly which type of infection it is and then to give it the most appropriate treatment. With modern antibiotics and investigation, then, there's no reason a chest infection by itself should be untreatable."
The announcement ended speculation about what was troubling Mandela. His hospitalization has caused growing concern in South Africa, a nation of 50 million people that largely reveres Mandela for being the nation's first democratically elected president who sought to bring the country together after centuries of racial division.
The tests Mandela underwent at 1 Military Hospital near South Africa's capital, Pretoria, detected the lung infection, presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj said in a statement.
"Madiba is receiving appropriate treatment and he is responding to the treatment," Maharaj said, referring to Mandela by his clan name as many do in South Africa in a sign of affection.