Is it the cold, the flu or covid? What to know as omicron spreads rapidly.

The common cold is usually milder than the flu, with a runny or stuffy nose more likely. (Imgorthand/Getty Images)
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With more families gathering for the holidays indoors, doctors are bracing this winter for a wave of coronavirus infections fueled by the rapid spread of the omicron variant.

At least three dozen U.S. states have already reported variant cases, and it is likely present in most countries in the world, according to the World Health Organization. With warnings of a possible peak of the variant as soon as January, people concerned about bringing the virus on their holiday travels want to know how to best protect themselves and their loved ones.

That can be especially difficult when it’s cold out and flu activity, while low, is increasing, making it tricky for those who are immunized against the coronavirus to tell a nasty cold from a breakthrough case of covid-19. Still, according to experts, getting the shot and a booster offer the best protection against the worst of the disease caused by the virus.