By Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
(CNN) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is battling a “severe” lung infection that has caused respiratory failure, a top official said Thursday.
The complication has resulted in “respiratory insufficiency,” Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said in a televised statement.
Chavez, 58, has been hospitalized in Cuba since undergoing cancer surgery more than three weeks ago. He is following a strict treatment regimen, Villegas said.
The information minister did not provide details about the treatment or prognosis.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “the outlook for respiratory failure depends on the severity of its underlying cause, how quickly treatment begins and … overall health.”
The condition occurs when not enough oxygen passes from the lungs into the blood, or when the lungs cannot remove carbon dioxide from the blood properly, the institutes’ website says. It can require oxygen therapy or the help of ventilator for treatment, according to the NIH.
Officials first revealed that Chavez was battling a respiratory infection more than two weeks ago. At the time, Villegas said the infection had been controlled. On Sunday, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro said “new complications” had surged as a result of the infection.
The Venezuelan information minister’s comments Thursday night came hours after Maduro and another top Chavez ally accused opposition leaders of organizing a campaign to spread rumors about the Venezuelan president’s health.
Standing side by side on the floor of a coffee factory in Caracas, Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello sharply criticized the opposition in remarks broadcast on state-run VTV.
“Don’t fall victim to the opposition’s rumors. … They have bad intentions every time they talk,” Cabello said.
Maduro said opposition claims that officials have been withholding information are baseless, noting that authorities had released 26 communiques about Chavez’s health in the past 22 days.
Chavez has not been seen publicly since his surgery.
On Wednesday, opposition leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo called on the government to release more details about Chavez’s health situation and his prognosis.
“Secrecy is the source of the rumors that increase uncertainty and cause anguish,” he told reporters.
On Thursday, Cabello and Maduro said Chavez’s supporters are united.
“The Chavistas, we know what we are going to do in any circumstance that happens in this country. … We will not betray the people. We will not betray the workers. … to the contrary, every day there will be more revolution,” Cabello said.