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Bird flu tops Asia's 2006 concerns

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A worker in China disinfects poultry.

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(CNN) -- A CNN/TIME survey of Asia-Pacific countries shows that avian flu is expected to be the biggest global issue in 2006, followed by economic slowdown and terrorism.

The survey, taken this month in Australia, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and the Hong Kong special administrative region, asked people to identify their biggest concerns from a list that included bird flu, terrorism, the war in Iraq/Middle East situation, economic slowdown/higher interest rates, global warming/climate change, pollution and AIDS.

The survey result comes as the Chinese government confirms that a 41-year-old woman from Fujian province in the southeast has become China's third human fatality from the virulent H5N1 strain of bird flu.

More than 70 people in Asia have died from the H5N1 virus since it first appeared more than two years ago. Most of the deaths have been in Vietnam and Thailand, and almost all of the victims were in close contact with birds.

While bird flu, economic slowdown and terrorism topped the CNN/TIME survey list with 25 percent, 23 percent and 21 percent respectively, there was a marked variation between geographic locations.

In Hong Kong, 52 percent of respondents identified avian flu as the biggest worry, reflecting its proximity to recent outbreaks in China and its experience of the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) infectious disease outbreak that killed more than 900 people in 2002-03, including 300 in Hong Kong.

In contrast, Australians -- who were victims of terror attacks on the Indonesian island of Bali -- worried more about terrorism, with 33 percent of respondents calling it their biggest fear. Only 8 percent were concerned about bird flu.

In South Korea, the emphasis was on an economic slowdown, identified by 46 percent as the biggest issue, followed by terrorism, 12 percent and bird flu, 10 percent.

Japanese respondents worried most about global warming/climate change (32 percent), closely followed by bird flu 30 percent, and terrorism 20 percent.

In Indonesia, 34 percent of respondents said their biggest concern was an economic slowdown, followed by terrorism 26 percent and avian flu 25 percent.

Overall, the war in Iraq was of concern to only 7 percent of respondents, with the highest awareness in Australia (13 percent).

A separate global poll last week showed that China and Vietnam are the most optimistic of all countries when looking to the year ahead.

The poll, conducted in 66 countries by Gallup International members, asked respondents: "As far as you are concerned, do you think next year will be better or worse than this year?"

Among respondents in China and Vietnam, 75 percent said 2006 would be better than this year. They were followed by Kosovo 73 percent, Afghanistan 69 percent and Dominican Republic 66 percent.

Respondents in Greece and Bosnia-Herzegovinia were the most likely to believe 2006 would be a worse year, with 54 percent, followed by Guatemala 52 percent, the Philippines 50 percent and Serbia 47 percent.

Vietnam has the highest economic expectations for 2006, with 69 percent expecting economic prosperity next year, followed by China with 64 percent.

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