The rise in the number of measles cases in under-18s has been linked to "a decade of relatively low measles, mumps and rubella vaccination uptake" said health minister Dawn Primarolo.
"The potential exposure of a large number of unprotected children to the measles virus means that there is a real risk of a large measles epidemic," said Ms Primarolo in a Commons written reply to Tory health spokesman Mike Penning:
The Health Protection Agency issued a similar warning three months ago when it reported 1,049 cases in England and Wales in the first 10 months of 2008.
Since a new way of monitoring the disease was introduced in 1995, last year's figures represent a new high.
Parents were put off giving their children the vaccine because it was thought they may be more likely to develop autism, but this has since been discredited.
A "catchup campaign" has been launched to immunise all unvaccinated or partially vaccinated children below 18 and more than£5 million has been given to primary care trusts to back the programme.
Related link on NursingTimes.net: Measles and the importance of maintaining vaccination levels