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Pietermaritzburg - Environmental factors did not cause the deaths of people in a KwaZulu-Natal Road Traffic Inspectorate (RTI) fitness test, an inquiry heard on Monday.
Cape Town University expert Timothy Noakes said if environmental factors were lethal, thousands of people would have died.
"The rule is that humans can exercise under hot conditions. Here we are dealing with the exception and not the rule," he said.
He was testifying in Pietermaritzburg before a commission of inquiry into the deaths of eight job applications who took part in a four kilometre run, which was part of an RTI fitness test, at the Harry Gwala Stadium last December.
More than 35 000 people had qualified to apply for 90 advertised RTI trainee posts. Of these, 15 600 attended a fitness test on December 27, and a similar number on December 28.
Weather conditions on the first day were about 30 degrees Celsius with 60 percent humidity, and on the second day about 27.2 degrees Celsius with a humidity of about 50 percent.
Noakes said humans had a massive capacity to exercise in heat.
A healthy person should not develop heat stroke when exercising in heat unless there were other factors, such as drugs, chronic illness, genetic predispositions, and food eaten before the run.
"When something goes wrong there is a catastrophe in the system," he said.
Noakes said the brain warned the body to slow down when exercising in excessive heat.
The inquiry heard that 46 people were hospitalised and about 300 people were treated at the stadium during the fitness test.
Noakes said people with suspected heat stroke should be cooled in ice cold water to decrease their body temperature.
Bongiwe Mbatha, who was a participant, was diagnosed with heat stroke and was cooled with a cold, wet sheet.
Noakes said the cooling of heat stroke patients was not widely practised by medical practitioners in South Africa.
Ntuthuko Sibisi was also diagnosed with heat stroke and renal failure. He was treated with seven litres of fluid.
Noakes said renal dialysis was needed for treatment and his body should have been cooled.
He attributed Sibisi's death to a respiratory cardiac arrest secondary to fluid overload.
Noakes' evidence continues on Tuesday.