Residents from Texas to Florida coasts are on high alert as a flesh-eating bacteria has infected the shores of the Gulf Coast. The water-borne bug – a strain called a Vibrio vulnificus – has spooked locals and tourists in the way shark attacks do: infections are rare, but when they strike, the victim is likely to lose a limb or die.

There is no central authority tracking cases – states are not required to report cases to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in Atlanta – so no one holds current, comprehensive statistics for deaths and illnesses. People, including public officials, have started to cobble together their own ideas. READ MORE