04/21/2004 at 01:00 AM EDT
Liza Minnelli is in a Florida hospital being treated for viral encephalitis, an extremely rare yet potentially fatal inflammation of the brain, a spokesperson for Fort Lauderdale's Cleveland Clinic confirmed to the Associated Press. She is said to be in "very serious condition" but improving. Reports had surfaced that the star, 54, had been rushed to the facility on Oct. 8 after her chauffeur and bodyguard found her in a semi-conscious state in her rented Florida home. Fire-Rescue Division-Chief Stephen McInerny told AP that upon arrival, paramedics found Minnelli suffering symptoms that included paralysis on one side of her body, slurred speech and drooping facial muscles, "suffering from what we believe was a possible stroke." She was released after an unspecified number of days, then was re-admitted for dehydration a few days ago, said the hospital. Its statement added that Minnelli thanks the public for its "care and concern." For the past several months, Minnelli has been in ill health, forced to cancel shows and, when she appears in public, to get around in a wheel chair. Hip problems have been cited.