An atmospheric pressure resistive barrier air plasma jet is designed to inactivate bacteria in aqueous media in direct and indirect exposure modes of treatment. The resistive barrier plasma jet is designed to operate at both dc and standard 50–60 Hz low frequency ac power input and the ambient air at 50% humidity level was used as the operating gas. The voltage-current characteristics of the plasma jet were analyzed and the operating frequency of the discharge was measured to be 20 kHz and the plasma power was measured to be 26 W. The plasma jet rotational temperatures (Trot) are obtained from the optical emission spectra, from the N2C-B(2+) transitions by matching the experimental spectrum results with the Spectra Air (SPECAIR) simulation spectra. The reactive oxygen and nitrogen species were measured using optical emission spectroscopy and gas analyzers, for direct and indirect treatment modes. The nitric oxides (NO) were observed to be the predominant long lived reactive nitrogen species produced by the plasma. Three different bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus (Gram-positive), Escherichia coli (Gram-negative), and Neisseria meningitidis (Gram-negative) were suspended in an aqueous media and treated by the resistive barrier air plasma jet in direct and indirect exposure modes. The results show that a near complete bacterial inactivation was achieved within 120 s for both direct and indirect plasma treatment of S. aureus and E. coli bacteria. Conversely, a partial inactivation of N. meningitidis was observed by 120 s direct plasma exposure and insignificant inactivation was observed for the indirect plasma exposure treatment. Plasma induced shifts in N. meningitidis gene expression was analyzed using pilC gene expression as a representative gene and the results showed a reduc- ion in the expression of the pilC gene compared to untreated samples suggesting that the observed protection against NO may be regulated by other genes.